ENGINEERING NOW NO. 38 • 2013 • VIRGINIA TECH COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING
Read inside why our engineering students are
Olympians of Technology
Portrait of a winning team
Materials Science and Engineering Students “Stand Tall”
Virginia Tech is the only school in the history of the SME international mining competition to have never failed to make the finals.
Meet our Olympians of Technology
Our engineering students have discovered the path from creativity to execution.
Activities initiated at Virginia Tech are replicated at other schools.
From soccer goals to emergency rescue Possibly the most important robotics project in the history of mankind.
HFES students set trends
After the Hokies won the national award so frequently, the sponsors revamped the competition’s format.
Winning the future It is the ignition for a career.
Building is in their blood
Once you start a history of winning, then people get excited.
Many people have contributed to Alpha Pi Mu’s dominance in competitions.
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Meet our Olympians Our hands-on, minds-on philosophy has boded well for the education of our engineering students at Virginia Tech. As competitors in design team and society rivalries, Hokies consistently rank among the technological leaders in national and international competitions that are designed for university and sometimes even professional events. As an example, a team from Virginia Tech designed an electric motorcycle in 2012 that won a North American 3Grand Prix competition in California, beating all the professional teams in their class, qualifying them for the world championship. The Hokies were on the first American team to bring the Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup to the U.S. This award was presented for winning the international robotic soccer competition known as RoboCup. Virginia Techâ€™s Robotics and Mechanism Laboratory (RoMeLa) sponsored the team that dominated this event held in Istanbul, Turkey in 2010. The 2011 team repeated the win in Mexico City the following year. Now the new generation of RoMeLa students is redirecting its talents to a U.S. Navy challenge to develop a firefighting robot. This issue of Engineering Now focuses on seven unique student groups, associated with our College of Engineering including the RoMeLa team, that maintain a long history of winning their national and sometimes international competitions. I think you will enjoy these articles, focusing on a small segment of our successful Olympiads of Technology. One of the groups, Alpha Pi Mu, has won the
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of Technology Outstanding Chapter award in the nation for the past five years. Our Human Factors and Ergonomics Society won the national competition so often that the officials revamped the challenge. Our materials students won the chapter of excellence award four of the last seven years, and have strong hopes for the current submission. Our mining students have dominated the Carlson Software Senior Design Competition, and they have also done exceedingly well in the annual Society of Mining and Metallurgical Exploration Conference’s international competition. Less than a decade old, the MyersLawson School of Construction has already built an enviable record of successes in various categories of national competition. Doug Nelson’s mentoring of our Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team has earned him four National Science
Foundation outstanding faculty advisor awards and multiple newspaper writeups, extolling the accomplishments of his teams over the years. Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering has a unique formula for success. We have a long history of students who can both think intelligently and execute their visions. We have faculty who encourage our students to exceed their own expectations. We have a long history of internal, peer-sponsored philanthropy: using the money they generate from hosting our Career Fair, our own Student Engineers’ Council provides financial support to
design teams and engineering student organizations, thereby enhancing their abilities to compete at the highest levels. And the external proof of success is the ranking we have among recruiters. In the latest Wall Street Journal survey of where engineering recruiters prefer to solicit their new employees, our Virginia Tech College of Engineering is among the top five universities in the country. That objective opinion cements our reputation as an engineering education leader. Sincerely, Richard C. Benson, Dean, College of Engineering Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Chair of Engineering
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winning program lucrative career
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By Lynn Nystrom Three years ago, Lynn Kern had no idea what a career in mining and minerals engineering (MinE) meant. So the plucky first semester sophomore at Virginia Tech walked over to the office of Greg Adel, the department head, and knocked on his door. He ushered his unexpected guest inside, and proceeded to answer her questions about the department’s curriculum, adding information about the multitude of job opportunities and various sources of scholarship money available to study in this field. She was hooked. And it would later become very good news for the department.
The Philadelphia native has now participated in two of the award winning teams from Virginia Tech selected by the judges of the international competition sponsored by the Society of Mining and Metallurgical Exploration (SME) Conference. In the nine years that this U.S. based competition has been held, participation has expanded to include teams from as far away as India. Despite this growing involvement of teams, Virginia Tech’s overall record remains envious. Hokie teams have finished 1st three times, 2nd four times, and 3rd twice. Furthermore, Virginia Tech is the only school in the history of this competition to have never failed to make the finals. As a senior, Kern’s work from her unrelated capstone design project will be submitted also to the Carlson Software Senior Design Competition that Virginia Tech mining and minerals engineering students won five years in a row, starting in 2006. In addition to their record-setting consecutive wins, they have also ranked in the top three places 12 out of 15 years. When the students graduate, they are entering a high-paying field that averages slightly higher than $60,000 for a bachelor’s degree, and one where the profession is facing an increasing need for candidates, in part based on a bull market in commodities for the past decade or more. Erik Westman, associate professor of mining and minerals engineering, has served as the faculty advisor for both competitions since 2002. Westman’s credentials include a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and a stint with the U.S. Bureau of Mines from 1991 until 1996. The industrial connection serves the mining engineering students When Kern graduates she will start work for Freeport McMoran, a copper and gold company, in its Graduate Development Program. This program provides an introductory period to the company, allowing her to change localities every six months for the first two years. The possible stints include exotic locations in Africa, Indonesia, and South America. “I will be able to see what I like to do, and the company is also able to decide how I best fit in,” she explained. While a student Kern was on a Freeport McMoran scholarship, and this recruiter of Virginia Tech students is also among the participants offering the real-world problems for the senior design competition. This long-
term association between Kern and Freeport McMoran throughout her undergraduate career served both of them well. When the company came to campus for the engineering career fair, its representative met with Kern, and their conversations led to her future employment. Ben Fahrman, currently an MinE doctoral candidate, has also benefited from the department’s strong relationship with companies in the mining arena, getting experience throughout his academic career by working with Luck Stone, a national crushed stone, sand and gravel company headquartered in Richmond, Va. Fahrman was a member of the 20092010 SME team who helped bring home the blue ribbon that year. “I learned more from doing this project than anything else, since we worked on a real-world problem…and that was the first time I had to help pull all of the pieces together,” he said. Fahrman admitted that he “felt the pressure to keep Virginia Tech’s winning streak going. No one doubted we could win as long as we put in the time, and did it right. As a senior in the department (at that time), I knew we were in good shape. We had pressure to perform – all part of the Hokie pride.”
The SME Competition The SME annual competition is divided into two phases. For a month in the fall each team of six works on a provided mining problem, but the caveat is that each student member can only spend a maximum of 30 hours on the proposed solution. The team compiles their efforts into one summary, and the judges from industry select the top six entries to participate in the final competition. These six finalists fly to Denver for the second phase of the competition the following March. On a Friday afternoon, they are presented with some anomalies to the original project, and they then have until Sunday morning to come up with their new solutions. As an example of the type of problem, Fahrman’s group was told that a limestone mine was about to be exhausted of its mineral content, but a nearby operating mine was available for purchase. The question to the team was: would they recommend buying it, and if so, at what price? Factors included the nuances of economics as related to mining engineering, processing of ore, equipment selection, reserve estimations, determination Continued on next page ENGINEERING NOW | 2013 | 5
Continued from previous page of waste products, government regulations, and more. After researching all of these parameters, Fahrman and his colleagues suggested the purchase was desirable at a specified range of prices that still allowed the company to make a profit. Their conclusions led them to the final six competition that year, and when they arrived in Denver, the problem was adjusted slightly, including new geological information and potential hazards. The top-seeded project Kern worked on for the SME competition was slightly different. Her virtual mine was jointly owned by two different entities, each with different guidelines for how they wanted a return on their investment. Her team needed to decide what represented the most economically feasible method to develop the aggregate mine of limestone and dolomite. Kern’s primary task was to develop the ventilation processes for the three different levels of the mine, while her peers worked on areas such as rock mechanics, geological models, processing, and environmental demands.
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“I was thrown a curve ball,” she said. She had to design intake and exhaust ventilation systems separately, but then she was told a shaft had to be closed, so she had to reroute her system. “Health and safety requirements were drilled into our heads, regardless of profit,” Kern added.
The Carlson Software national design competition In this competition the student teams submit a complete mine feasibility and design report, prepared as part of their senior design project – a capstone course in which students design a mine from exploration to closure. Using their undergraduate experience in the mining curriculum, they put together a report that averages about 16 chapters each year. Topics that must be explored are varied and comprehensive, including: existing geological conditions; available labor force; existing community services such as schools and hospitals; average weather conditions; chemical and mechanical properties of minerals to be extracted; reserve estimates; any contractual agreements such as water or land ownership; special taxes that might exist in the community; and mine closure procedures.
Furthermore, the students must also investigate costs of equipment and their upkeep, identify materials handling procedures such as railroads or the trucking industry, and look at surface needs such as bulk storage, power, and service buildings. Environmental impacts, health, and safety considerations are also included in the report that borders on the size of a book. National Academy of Engineering member Jerry Luttrell, professor of mining and minerals engineering, teaches a course, Engineering Project Management, that Fahrman cites as being “very beneficial” to the students’ knowledge for both the SME and the Carlson competitions. Another final clue to Virginia Tech’s success story Westman and Fahrman both recognized Angelo Biviano, director of the writing and communications program housed with the mining and minerals engineering department. “He plays a major role in preparing us,” said Fahrman. “We are the only mining engineering program in the country that has a full-time instructor dedicated to undergraduate communications skills, and I think the results speak for themselves,” Adel avowed.
The Kimballton Mine in Giles County, Va., allowed Virginia Tech photographer Jim Stroup access to its facility for his pictures appearing on the publicationsâ€™s cover, and on pp. 4, 5, 6, and 7.
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s l a o e g u r c s e e c r c y o c s n e m Fro merg e to he ry p, t u C ato r o o b b Ro s La n ing m t s i a n titio in a e h m p c r do Me com d A n P Afte a fireDAR ics a t a o d n on Rob es a ing v s i l u y e c sav Nav is fo d e l h u t t co t for o tha b ay g ro ack n i M t n figh teve S y B
An early prototype of a hand for the RoMeLa-created robot THOR, a project sponsored by DARPA
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A 3-D computer graphic rendering of THOR, the robot being built by RoMeLa for the DARPA Robotics Challenge.
A visit to the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory in the basement of Randolph Hall this past May was very typical of post-commencement springtime. Graduate and undergraduate students buzzed about two connected labs, working on CAD drawings, fabricating parts on machines and filing them smooth afterward, and showing still other parts off to the guest of the moment. The team was in full prep-mode. “This is part of the pelvis,” said Derek Lahr of Jackson, Miss., and a doctoral student in mechanical engineering. He held forth a metal object that resembles the hip bone of a person. A hole indicates where the spine would pass through. If one didn’t look closely at the main robotics laboratory floor, he or she could assume the team was prepping for another RoboCup competition. Except that the always present green carpet soccer field used for countless practices is … missing. A plain gray tile floor now dominated the room. “Oh, it’s over there in the corner,” Lahr said by way of explanation. Indeed, the soccer green was rolled up like a carpet. Off to the side. RoboCup is, of course, the annual robotics competition that brings together 500-plus academic-based robotics teams from around the world, each team pitting robot against robot in soccer – football to most of the world – matches, as well as other competitions including obstacle avoidance. RoMeLa, that’s the short name for the lab founded by Dennis Hong, now an associate professor of mechanical engineering, first arrived on the RoboCup scene in 2007. The debut was less than what Hong or his students wanted. Hong said the team “did horrible.” Or, rather, the robots – roughly 18-inch tall humanoid robots named DARwIn – never worked as planned. “Things that worked in the lab never worked when taken outside, lighting conditions changed, the robots couldn’t see anything. There were carpet material changes. They couldn’t walk,” Hong said. It showed, he added, “how difficult ‘real-life’ robotics is.” But a goal – crystal and round – beckoned. At the competition, Hong saw for the first time the RoboCup grand prix Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup. In his own words, he fell in love. “I promised the students that we shall take the LV cup trophy to the USA one day, and I kept my promise at RoboCup 2011.” And it happened in Instanbul. There, a new incarnation of the DARwIn robots – vastly improved, and designed with adorable big eyes that glow, and re-dubbed DARwIn-OP, in conjunction with the Korean robotics company Robotis – dominated its Kid-Sized Humanoid Division. In the Adult-Sized Division, RoMeLa fielded CHARLI 2 – that’s short for Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence. An earlier incarnation of CHARLI already made history as the first untethered, autonomous, full-sized, Continued on next page ENGINEERING NOW | 2013 | 9
Continued from previous page walking humanoid robot built inside the United States, and was featured on the cover of Popular Science. The newer CHARLI propelled Hong and his robotics lab to stardom. When CHARLI 2 kicked a winning goal, Hong said the arena echoed with chants of “USA! USA!” The 2012 competition was held in Mexico City. There, RoMeLa dominated again with a new-and-improved CHARLI and the DARwIn-OPs. The near-rock star status held. International students – RoMeLa’s competitors – lined up for pictures with CHARLI and to get Hong’s autograph. Despite RoMeLa’s dominance at Mexico City, again in the Kid- and AdultSized soccer leagues, a team from Germany took the crystal cup, a continuing “share the love” mantra of the RoboCup series. Hong’s love for the trophy remains. A replica sits in the main foyer of Randolph Hall. For now, though, RoMeLa is moving on, as the rolled-up soccer field indicates. During RoboCup 2013, held in The Netherlands, the team sent only one undergraduate to assist the University of Pennsylvania team that has partnered
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with Virginia Tech in the past. (CHARLI will sit this year out.) RoMeLa has its eyes on two major robotics projects and neither is a sport. Rather, rougher, dangerous terrain, the kind found in the rubble of war, or devastating earthquakes. As well, active duty Navy ships and fires. These are two projects, both funded though military agencies. Both worth potentially millions of dollars. One robot – and the absolute focus of the RoMeLa lab for the next year and change – is THOR, or Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot. He is part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a multi-year competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. (DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and is a subsidiary of the DoD.) The task set for RoMeLa: develop a search-and-rescue robot suited for complicated, even dangerous conditions that could harm human rescue personnel. This will be CHARLI super-maxed. The hustle and bustle of machine cutting and parts assembly from a May visit was all for THOR, and a June 13 visit by DARPA officials to check progress on the project. The team’s goal for the visit was to have a prototype leg finished for the
agency. Hong called the visit “vital.” During the visit, the remaining funding from DARPA leading to the December 2014 final demo was on the line. The agency is cutting two of seven funded hardware teams, and RoMeLa is in the game for the win. And the team did pass the test, going into round 2. The task is huge. RoMeLa and its partners -- these include the University of Penn’s own robotics lab; ROBOTIS, the Korean robotics company; both major partners in RoMeLa’s RoboCup success; and Harris Corp., a Florida-based communications and information company -- must deliver to DARPA a robot that must carry out Herculean actions. Among them are: mount and drive a vehicle, walk over rubble, clear objects blocking a door, and enter a building. The robot then must locate and shut off a leaking valve, operate a hose, climb an industrial ladder and traverse a walkway. The final and possibly most difficult task will be to use a power tool and break through a wall. This isn’t soccer play, at all. When the challenge was announced in late 2012, Hong called the effort, “the greatest challenge of my career.” He added, “This is the craziest, boldest, most expensive, most challenging, yet possibly the most important robotics project in the history of mankind. … Whether we succeed or not, if the technology we develop
The team of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory pose after its dominating performance at the RoboCup 2011 competition in Istanbul, Turkey. Associate Professor and RoMeLa founder/ director Dennis Hong stands directly behind CHARLI.
the ct f i e j , t o s pr r no even c i o t d o st n rob cee ct ca mo t c , n n u e siv orta r we s s proje re, the n p e i g e im xp eth ugh th he futu is Hon ost st e h o m … W p thro ife in t enn st, m ly the . D e d l d ~ b l n it.” velo rson’s ossi manki , bo e t p h s t t d r e e o zi , ye ory of we le p is w g y cra g n i g g t e n s i g n i th nolo ve a s eh llen ythi r h h is is a t e c h h v T c in te sa “ e through this project can even save a single person’s life in the future, then everything is worth it.” The second project: SAFFiR, a robotics project funded by the Office of Naval Research, that is much further along than THOR – built from the feet up to the upper chest. This humanoid, Shipboard Autonomous Fire-Fighting Robot, is being designed to fight fires aboard naval ships. In May, the robot could walk attached to a gimbal. By June, Hong hoped to have the robot walking without support, but still likely tethered to a computer for operator control. It will be part of the demo for DARPA, as THOR’s technology will feed from the research on SAFFiR. Also true of SAFFiR: Hong is outsourcing for assistance, with fellow Hokie mechanical engineering professor Brian Lattimer and his EXTREME Lab developing the robot’s heat/fire-sensing and suppression tasks, with additional help from UPenn and the Naval Research Lab. Both projects are benefiting from the first years of determination and back-tothe-drawing-board efforts with RoboCup from 2007 onward to back-to-back world championships. As students design, cut, and shape parts for the initial prototype leg that will start the physical building of THOR, work is habit now. Even for lab newcomers. “Many people have asked us, ‘Why spend so much time, money, and effort on building soccer playing robots? Isn’t there more important things robots should do?’,” Hong said in May. “We are now using all the technology we have developed through making
robots able to play soccer to now save people’s lives: bipedal locomotion, dynamics and control, kinematics and design, robot vision, autonomous behaviors, etc., all of these are needed to build a robot for disaster relief and it came from our work for RoboCup.” Lahr, the doctoral student, said, “The prep work, and atmosphere are very much similar for THOR and Robocup. It was not uncommon before Robocup to have our CNC [computer numerical control] mills running 24/7 to finish parts for the competition. The same is true for THOR, except now we have more mills and a larger robot. The biggest difference is the size and importance of the competition.” Two newcomers to the lab already instantly see the benefits of working with RoboCup veterans as the team prep
THOR. “So far I’ve been de-burring parts and tapping holes for THOR, and later I will be assisting with assembly and testing,” said Meaghan Johnson of Burke, Va., and a senior in mechanical engineering. Master’s student John Seminatore of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., added: “I’ve never participated in a Robocup contest, but from my military time I have participated in a satellite launch, and the energy feels much the same. Everyone’s buckling down and focusing on the tasks at hand.” RoMeLa’s laser-beam focus on THOR and SAFFiR is not permanent. The soccer field will come out of the corner, and find use again. And if THOR can drive a vehicle, traipse over rubble, and bust through walls, imagine what he can do as an athlete. “When THOR becomes operational, and if we bring it to RoboCup making it play soccer at RoboCup 2014 or 2015, it will blow everyone’s mind,” Hong said.
The Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory has several versions of its robot, CHARLI, which made headlines in 2010 when it debuted. The original CHARLI, now in a glass case in the atrium of Randolph Hall, was featured on the cover of Popular Science.
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Virginia Tech College of Engineering students have access to VT FIRE, formally named the Kroelling Advanced Materials Foundry, a world-class teaching and research facility. Directed by Alan Druschitz of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the foundry emphasizes green engineering and best management practices.
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By Lynn Nystrom
Materials science and engineering students “stand tall” nationally among peers from larger university programs
In the materials engineering world, four different student societies – the American Ceramic Society, the American Institute for Steel Technology, The Materials Society, and the American Society for Metals International – from colleges nationwide compete for one of only five available Material Advantage Chapter of Excellence awards presented at the Materials Science and Technology Annual Conference. So the odds of one school’s chapter winning four of the last seven years are probably not high. But that is exactly what Virginia Tech’s Material Advantage Chapter has accomplished, garnering an excellence award in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010. The students have high expectations for 2013.
“Basically, we are holding our own and standing tall alongside students from much larger programs with over twice the enrollment of our department,” said Diane Folz, faculty adviser to Virginia Tech’s Materials Engineering Professional Societies (MEPS), a Material Advantage Student Chapter, and the umbrella organization linking the University’s four small materials science and engineering (MSE) student groups. “We are in the company of Penn State, Ohio State, Georgia Tech, the University of Florida, and the University of Missouri – Rolla, to name a few,” added Folz, a Continued on next page ENGINEERING NOW | 2013 | 13
Continued from previous page senior research associate and instructor in the MSE department. The criteria for winning is the submission of an annual report. All activities from the year, including service, outreach, social activities, and community involvement, are part of the report. “To our credit, we have also made significant impacts on programs at other schools that have initiated activities we designed first here at Virginia Tech,” Folz added. One of these projects is creation of the Journal of Undergraduate Materials Research, conceived of by Department Head David Clark and Folz. Its debut in the fall of 2005 coincided with the first year the Virginia Tech Material Advantage Chapter received one of the excellence awards. This technical journal published by the Virginia Tech MSE students provides a venue for the undergraduates to publish their research and to practice their communication skills. Graduate students serve as editorial board members and participate in the selection of the manuscripts written entirely by
undergraduates, making the document peer-reviewed. Also, faculty reviewers currently hail from such esteemed institutions as Johns Hopkins University and the University of Oxford. The journal’s first issue covered only materials science as it related to Virginia Tech. Since its inception the journal has evolved into its latest publication reflecting communities of learning shared between multiple universities and industries. As an example, the fourth volume contains one article on collaborative work on polymeric coatings for wood used in the making of guitars. Both Virginia Tech and the University Patrick of Hartford engineering students conducted this work, and the featured guitar on the cover was contributed by their industry partner, Taylor Guitars. The table of contents for this latest journal also contains student submissions from such institutions as the Indian Institute of Technology on the dynamics of spheroids and from Georgia
At one of the outreach events hosted by the MSE students, a guest pours a molten tin alloy into molds while learning about metals processing.
Tech on gamma ray scintillators. The Student Ambassadors program represents another novelty reported on for the chapter’s entry in the national competition. Started by Patrick Sinko, vice-president of the MEPS chapter for 2012-13, he modeled this outreach program after the college-wide Dean’s Team that provides services to current and perspective engineering students. Sinko, also a member of the Corps of Cadets, recruited an initial 15 students to the departmental ambassadors program, and by year two, increased it to about 25 participants. These students run the Sinko Materials Science and Engineering Open House, demonstrating hands-on projects to general engineering freshmen who are still undecided about a major within the college. The Ambassadors also provide similar demonstrations for the Open House for high school students, hosted by the College each April. “I wanted to promote the materials engineering program and return it to its glory days when every MSE student was involved,” Sinko, who has been known to volunteer as much as five to 10 hours a week to MEPS, said. “We have made our recruiting more of a studentdriven activity, taking the workload off the faculty. We hosted a group from north ern Virginia in the fall, showing them activities such as glass pouring and a space shuttle tile demonstration. We also took them to lunch. We had a similar day with students from the Blacksburg High School.” Sinko and Stephanie Sparks, the 2012-13 chapter president, are submitting the
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entry for this year’s chapter of excellence award. Sparks is as devoted to the group as Sinko, and thinks of her colleagues as a “very close-knit community.” Her own interest in materials started as a high school student in Oakton, Va., where she was inspired by a teacher to learn more about how to make environmentally friendly materials. As a sophomore, Sparks was the youngest underclassman from Virginia Tech to attend the annual MEPS conference in the spring in Cocoa Beach, Fl., in 2010. Folz takes only the “12 of the best” to this secure student pages meeting on composite materials and structures run by the government. After Sparks participated in this meeting, she wanted to make sure the Virginia Tech MEPS chapter remained successful and admitted she “set some very high goals for herself.” Sparks has enjoyed having Folz as a role model in her endeavors, as Folz served as the president of the American Ceramic Society student chapter when she was at the University of Florida. Afterwards, the National Institute of Ceramic Engineers hired Folz to run the National Student Congress for the ceramic engineering society. Performing her magic, Folz increased the meeting size from about 10 schools to some 25 different groups. “I have been involved with student groups from a professional level for so long that when I arrived at Virginia Tech, I immediately involved myself in the materials science and engineering student professional program here,” Folz said. She had the strong support of David Clark, professor and head of the MSE department, who brought Folz to the Blacksburg campus in 2001. Previously, Clark knew Folz from his tenure at the University of Florida, serving then as its materials chapter faculty adviser and as a mentor to Folz. Since joining Virginia Tech, Folz has taught courses such as the Materials Processing Laboratory and the Introduction to Materials for Non-Majors, while also obtaining her master’s degree in 2011. She is currently working part-time on her doctorate. Her master’s thesis was linked to the Journal of Undergraduate Materials Research, as she focused on materials research in the construction of
The attending high school students learn from a Virginia Tech MSE student about the properties of materials at low temperatures by using a carrot frozen by liquid nitrogen. the guitar. Since then, she has interested a multitude of the materials science and engineering majors in guitar manufacturing, and makes it part of a collaborative learning process. When the Journal published an article on enhancing the undergraduate research experience, the student authors credited Folz with her vision of a guitarbased microwave processing project for facilitating collaborations between universities and industry. At that time, the article spoke of Folz’ newfound collaboration with the University of Hartford and the Taylor Guitar Company. Two years later, that partnership continues to flourish, according to Folz’ website. Today, more than 30 students have been involved in various projects to meet a goal with the guitar company of producing a new coating for the musical instrument and to develop some surprising new component designs. Ongoing, novel educational projects such as this one help Sparks and Sinko as they compile their entry for the 2013 competition. Folz has also encouraged the students to publicize the impact their materials research could have on society, and not just leave their findings in the technical journals. Each year, the Virginia
Tech students travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress to speak about the importance of materials research. The national Material Advantage Program Office helps schedule the visits for the students over a three-day period. This year, the Hokies met with the offices of Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, and Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, as well as a personal appointment with Representative Morgan Griffith of Virginia. In preparation for their meetings, the students were trained using role-playing exercises to provide them with ideas of good talking points about the need for continued research funding. This exercise will also go into the report Sinko and Sparks are preparing. And showing they have a sense of humor, the MEPS students can point to their video on “Ugly Mugly,” their contestant for the Ceramic Education Council Annual Mug Drop Competition. The Hokies’ ceramic mug, laughed at by their competitors for its unattractive appearance, earned the group a trophy for the best designed mug of 2012 in the national competition. “Pretty darn good, I’d say,” summarized Folz of the students’ achievements throughout the past seven years.
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From Lego aircraft carriers to fish hatcheries, building is in their blood By Lindsey Haugh
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Building a solid team Virginia Tech’s MyersLawson School of Construction sent three teams of undergraduate students to the Associated Schools of Construction Region 6 and 7 National Student Competition and Construction Management Conference in 2013 in Sparks, Nevada. Each had a varying degree of success, building upon an enviable history. “Once you start winning, then people get excited,”
smiled Christine “Chris” Fiori, associate director for the Myers-Lawson School of Construction. But more than winning, there are more valuable rewards to result from the student’s involvement, she explained. “Three major things I hope the students take from the experience: the obvious, is that they gain new knowledge of the field, they network with potential employers, and have fun while doing it,” said Fiori, faculty advisor to the teams. The university’s three student teams from both construction engineering
and management and building construction programs competed against 21 well-respected construction schools in three categories: Pre-Construction Services; Concrete; and Sustainable Building and LEED. The competition included: Arizona State, Oregon State, Cal Poly, Colorado State, and University of Florida. Companies such as PCL Construction Services Inc., Sundt Construction, and SKANSKA USA Building Inc., proposed a problem to the teams, typical of services provided to clients in the real world. The sponsor companies
judged the students’ entries, based on their team’s fictitious company profile and qualifications, meeting deliverables, and presentation. Over the three-day event, students are challenged to solve problems that simulate real-life estimating, bidding, scheduling, and proposal processes for complex construction projects. At the conclusion of the event, the awards ceremony is coupled with a construction industry career fair. As in most competitions, preparation precedes Continued on next page
The 2013 concrete competition team of undergraduate students from the Virginia Tech Myers-Lawson School of Construction, from left to right, are: Sam Houchins, Kyle Lamars, Kevin Bunn, Arthur Genuario, Josh Daniels, and Matt Ondek.
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Continued from previous page the actual event, and the first item on the to-do list before the annual competition, is to select the students to serve on the three teams. Each of the three teams is limited to six people, plus alternates. A returning member from one of the previous year’s teams is usually chosen to be a captain. Other perspective members might be encouraged by the seasoned participant to interview for a spot on the team with Fiori. She ultimately selects and advises the 18 plus team members. “What can you bring to the competition that is unique? What are your skill sets? Can you get along well with others under intense stress?” questioned Fiori. “These are just are few of the questions I ask potential members before I can consider them.” Prior to joining the Virginia Tech community in 2007, Fiori was a faculty member in the Del E. Webb School of Construction at Arizona State University, where she became heavily involved in the construction competitions and was the advisor for several successful teams. She was also an assistant director of Region 6 and worked on the planning
of the competition. Once Fiori has made selections, the three teams start working together in November, meeting once a week with her.
Constructing a future
It was John Lawson, president and CEO of W.M. Jordan Company and Tech alumnus who encouraged Michele Woodford, an intern with his company for the past three consecutive summers, to explore construction engineering. She was attending Bridgewater College at the time and enrolled in a dual program with Virginia Tech – one that should have garnered her with dual degrees in both physics and civil engineering. But in her junior year, when Woodford transferred to Virginia Tech into the civil engineering program, she opted to study construction engineering instead. Senior Woodford was selected for the pre-construction team. “While in my third summer internship with W.M. Jordan I had acquired actual field experience estimating costs associated with construction
jobs. Because of this, I took on the estimator role in the pre-construction team,” said Woodford, the lone female group member. “I have always had a love for numbers and will definitely pursue a career in construction estimation post graduation.” The problem PCL Construction presented to the pre-construction team was the building and establishment of a fish hatchery, located in a cofferdam in Bridgeport, Wash. “The team had no prior knowledge of cofferdams. Our team collectively had more commercial knowledge, which was not exactly applicable in this situation. Even though our presentation was on point and we rocked the meeting, unfortunately we missed some key aspects in the architecture of the structure,” said Woodford. The Pre-Construction Services team finished fifth out of 12 in their competition. Along with Woodford, the team members included Tim Gross, Nathan Batman, Christian Weiss, Patrick Pennell, and Andrew Adams. They won first place in 2009, third in 2010, fifth in 2011, and seventh in 2012.
Always a learning curve when nothing is concrete
“When I was 12, on Christmas morning I opened a 1,700 piece Lego aircraft
carrier. By that evening I had put together the entire set by trial and error methods,” said Sam Houchins. “My mom had always said I’d either grow up to be a lawyer because I like to argue, or an engineer since I liked figuring out how to solve problems. I chose the later because I can be an engineer and get dirty at the same time.” Houchins, a member of the concrete team is a senior in construction engineering and management. “My grades have improved since becoming part of the team, said the senior graduating in the fall of 2013. He attributes his academic progress to the impact Fiori has had on him. “Her enthusiasm for the competition and the construction program is incredibly motivating.” The concrete team, which was sponsored by Sundt Construction, also included members: Josh Daniels, Kevin Bunn, Kyle Lamars, Matt Ondek, and Arthur Genuario. Their team acted as a concrete subcontracting firm that was solicited to bid on the construction of a municipal building, housing a court. Their focus was on the concrete foundation pour. They worked on their project for 16 hours – well into the early morning, sleeping only a few hours, and then presented at one of the earliest time slots. Despite their efforts, the concrete team finished in the middle third of their competition. But, this is only the second time Virginia Tech has competed in the concrete divi-
The 2013 National Sustainable Building and LEED competition winning team members, back row, left to right, are: Alek Leckszas, Tim Reddick, Glenn Sullivan, and faculty adviser Christine Fiori. Front row, left to right, are: Andrew McNulty, Evan Underwood, and Justin Rajadhyaksha; all undergraduates in the MyersLawson School of Construction program at Virginia Tech.
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sion. In 2012 they placed fifth out of nine teams. “I am disappointed we didn’t score higher and that I’m a senior and won’t be able to compete and have the chance to win next year’s competition,” said the Virginia native. “I felt like there could have been many ways to approach the problem. Many variables. Nothing was definite. Maybe we should have directed more detailed questions to the panel?” Houchins plans to participate in the regional competition in the fall before graduating. “I want to continue to be involved with the competitions. I learn something new every time – about the industry and about myself,” said the 22 year old.
LEED the way
The Sustainable Building and LEED team’s assigned project, sponsored by SKANSKA involved a new “green” five-story office-building project in the Pacific Northwest. Alek Leckszas, a junior in
the construction engineering and management program, alongside Justin Rajadhyaksha, Andrew McNulty, Evan Underwood, Glenn Sullivan, and Tim Reddick, led the Sustainable Building and LEED team to a victory in their category, with the highest winning score in the history of the competition. It is apparent Leckszas understands the team’s success originates from dedication of each individual member. He was the only unseasoned member and had considered himself “the weakest link.” “All of the guys on the team work incredibly hard. These are the same guys that do well in and outside of the classroom,” said Leckszas, who is the director of philanthropy for the Student Engineers’ Council and Beta Theta Pi’s academic chair. “During my freshman year I was lucky to have lived in the Galileo community with the best role models. I attribute that as the basis for developing effective study skills and practices that I’ve carried throughout my time in college
thus far,” said Leckszas. Galileo is a residential-based learning community for freshman men in engineering. That’s not the only beneficial decision Leckszas has made. When Fiori solicited him to interview for a spot on the LEED team, he jumped at the chance. Fiori had recognized his potential in class and had taken notice of his interest in aspects of sustainability. Leckszas is now working towards a minor in green engineering. At the competition, the LEED team was relaxed and confident when they presented to SKANSKA. “On the first day, we had approached the problem incorrectly. Evan, our captain, realized it and quickly steered us in the right direction. From then on we knew we had nailed it and were extremely pleased with the win,” said Leckszas enthusiastically. The LEED team won best presentation in 2011 and seventh overall. The team placed ninth in 2009, fourth in 2010, and fifth in 2012. “Competing with my
team to win first in the Sustainable Building and LEED Competition has been one of my favorite experiences at Virginia Tech. It has also encouraged me to further pursue a career in sustainability with renewable energy,” said Leckszas.
Applicable to the real world
Fiori hopes the teams’ successes will encourage other students to participate in upcoming competitions. “There is no textbook for the experience they [the students] garner with their participation in this particular competition. They gain confidence knowing that what they are learning in the classroom is actually what they will apply in the field … in the real world,” said Fiori who is currently leading a $90,000 collaborative research project for NSF and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to study the work of the ancient engineers of the Great Inca road of the Andes.
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WINNING THE FUTURE Virginia Tech’s Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team helps seed the transportation industry with students experienced in work shop competition. By Steven Mackay The Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team poses with its car in Yuma, Ariz., during the track testing phase of EcoCAR 2. With the group is Keith Van Houten, a Hokie alumnus and GM mentor for the student team.
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or the Virginia Tech’s Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team, the EcoCAR competition means much more than trophies and bragging rights for a win. It’s an ignition for a career. Weeks before Virginia Tech’s Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team left for the Phase 2 portion of the EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future competition in Yuma, Ariz., and then San Diego, a senior student member of the team excitedly spoke of his future in both the shortterm and the long-term. “When we see that thing
Andrew Gregory, now graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, works on the car in the Ware Lab on campus.
drive, it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said Tyler Erikson of Williamsburg, Va. He said this in early May as the team unveiled the car – a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu – to the public, a gathering of former team members, College of Engineering faculty and staff, and parents and other supporters. Erikson proudly said taking the donated car, gutting it, and converting it into an electric hybrid vehicle that can drive up to 40 miles on battery power, no gas needed, has been “one of the most rewarding experiences of his life.” The joy of getting his hands dirty inside the Joseph F. Ware Jr. Advanced Engineering Laboratory will stay with him for life, and the rest of his career in engineering. That is fitting, for as of
press time, Erikson, who graduated in May from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering is working for Volvo Trucks in Haggerston, Md. Without his time on EcoCAR, spending 40-hour weeks inside the lab, in addition to a full class load, Erikson said he likely would not have had landed a job so quickly. “That’s one of the greatest benefits of this competition,” he said. “I don’t think half of us would have gotten jobs without this. The
best part is you go into a job interview, and you have an answer for every question, and an example of how hard you work. That’s the biggest take away.” Doug Nelson has seen this happen year after year to his students. A professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and winner of several awards for his efforts, both at the university and national levels, Nelson has headed the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team in its many
incarnations since 1994. The team started out as part of the Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) Challenge, and then participated in Propane Challenge, the FutureCar Challenge, the FutureTruck Challenge, and Challenge X, before diving into EcoCAR, the current three-year design competition challenging engineering students from the United States and Canada to fully refurbish a gas-powered vehicle into one that is hybrid electric, Continued on next page
“The best part is you go into a job interview, and you have an answer for every question.” ~ Tyler Erikson, a Hokie alumnus now working for Volvo Truck ENGINEERING NOW | 2013 | 21
Continued from previous page while maintaining performance, look, safety, and other consumer-oriented demands. Each competition along the way has had corporate and government sponsorships. One major reason is jobs. “This is why the Department of Energy, GM, and all of the sponsors are involved,” Nelson said. “This competition seeds the industry with engineers familiar with the challenges of sustainable transportation. Students who have participated in EcoCAR have a big advantage when it comes to jobs.” In summer 2011, Virginia Tech took first place in the EcoCAR 1 – dubbed The NeXt Challenge. Among their 14 prizes: Best Vehicle Testing Complete Presentation, Shortest Braking Distance, Lowest Fuel Consumption, and Best Dynamic Consumer Acceptability. The year before, it took 2nd in the competition during the Phase 2 portion, where student teams show off their working cars at a GM desert
“The awards and winning are a nice perk to encourage along the way, but this program is all about the students learning and reaching their goals.” ~ Eli White, Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team student leader test facility in Yuma, where the car is pushed hard on the track, and then San Diego, where the team presents its design specs and also shows off its community outreach efforts and other steps to demonstrate an engineering team that doesn’t just build, but can communicate to the public at large what they are building. In June 2013, Erikson and his teammates repeated the competition hurdles in Arizona and California. They came in 6th overall with their new car, dubbed MARY, short for Mostly A Redesign Year. (Student engineer teams love
Team leader Eli White, a graduate student within the Virginia Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering, will again head HEVT during the 20132014 academic year.
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acronyms. This group went as far as naming a roof rack placed atop the car for decoration as SHARK, or Stability Hybrid Accessory Roof Kit. SHARK’s job: carry a surfboard, a homage to the name origin of the model car, as in Malibu, Calif.) The June effort followed a year of physical work on the car and a year of design work before that, with countless revisions and unforeseen challenges along the way. The engine was replaced. Battery packs were installed
in the trunk. All new wiring was installed to connect the batteries to the new motor and engine. Naturally, for a hybrid car, the car received an electrical charging system in the rear, on the opposite side of the manufacturer-installed fuel- supply system. Two fire extinguishers were added to the engine compartment. More so than design, speed, or diminished exhaust from the car, safety is always first and foremost among all efforts. All of this work made more than two dozen students into one team, an important lesson for any engineer entering the career field. “The challenges of working on this car are numerous. Any time you are taking a vehicle manufactured by professionals and trying to remove parts and work in additional hybrid components that aren’t supposed to be there, you are going to run into plenty of issues,” said Eli
White of Thaxton, Va., and a master’s student in mechanical engineering who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in May 2012 from Virginia Tech under the same department. He is expected to graduate in May 2014, just before the final, Phase 3, competition for EcoCAR 2 at GM’s Michigan headquarters and then in Washington, D.C. “On the physical side, cars these days just do not have extra space in them,” White added. “The vehicle is built to be space efficient and not have anything extra to add mass other than necessary parts. Our job, however, is to find empty space and fill it with our high voltage systems and other hybrid components. Another huge challenge is the controls aspect of the project. It is all fine and good to integrate all of our parts into the car, but without communication between the stock
system and our added hybrid systems, all we have is one massive paper weight. It is vital for everything in the car to work as one system and to transmit not only stock vehicle signals, but also signals generated to make the car work as we want it to.” Working as one system can describe the car, and the team as well. That can be especially challenging itself when many team members enter the competition with little to no “shop” experience. “Most of the students starting on the HEVT project have no knowledge or experience with hybrid vehicle technologies, and so they have to learn a lot, and fast,” Nelson said. “So, yes, one of the great pleasures I get from the project is seeing the students pull it all together and make it work.” Among those that did not have experience with cars before joining the team was
White himself. But he has learned quickly. “It has been great to gain practical car knowledge I can use in everyday life, as well as knowledge about hybrid technology that is the future of the automotive industry,” he said. “It has been an amazing opportunity to tear down the vehicle to simply a body structure and then getting to put things back together. It is every engineers’ dream to tear things apart to see how they work.” Work on the car is not a begin-from-scratch effort each year, or even each three-year cycle. As the designated redesign cars have evolved during the past few years, with new and more complicated onboard control modules and electric power steering, so have the team and competition rules. “Each competition has a new unique vehicle, and we have new designs, components, and challenges,” said Nelson. “We follow a vehicle
design process that is largely prescribed by the competition requirements and rules. We have our own team structure and process that has evolved over time with the competitions, but each team has to come up with a plan to implement the designs, and then test and refine the design.” White will stay on with the team as he prepares for Year Three. His teammates this year, as with Erikson, will enter the workforce, including Kollmorgen, GM, and several other companies that were involved in sponsorships and other support avenues of EcoCAR. The new team for 20132014 was already well in place before Phase 2 ended, having worked in support of the graduated team throughout the year. And these new students will quickly learn that their successes in the shop will lead to a career path. “It is all about the experience and what everyone can take from this on a personal level,” White said. “Yes, the awards and winning are a nice perk to encourage along the way, but this program is all about the students learning and reaching their goals.”
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ALPHA PHI MU
By Lynn Nystrom
Nationally outstanding, five years running For the annual nationwide competition, the numbers are slightly staggering: 69 active chapters of Alpha Pi Mu
across the country with more than 45,000 members. The reason this data is staggering: for the past five years in a row, the Virginia Tech student chapter of Alpha Pi Mu has won the national Outstanding Chapter award. The award reflects its numerous activities and contributions to the field of industrial engineering, the national society, and the community. “This is
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a remarkable and energetic group of students,” said Kimberly Ellis, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering (ISE) at Virginia Tech and the faculty adviser to the group since 1997. “Originally, I was assigned to advise this group, but I would have chosen them. I enjoy working with the student leaders.” The report the chapter submits to Alpha Pi Mu’s national office for the award application is comprehensive. On average the document is about 40 pages, citing such activities as: assisting the College of Engineering in the
hosting of an Open House for more than 1000 prospective students from participating high schools; recognizing accomplishments of students and faculty; and serving as mentors to other engineering students as well as Upward Bound youth. This winning tradition of the Virginia Tech chapter has been cultivated by a number of people, Ellis said. For example, when the roof of the local Blacksburg High School caved in, the teenage students were compelled to double up at the area middle school’s classrooms. With
the two different academic levels, sessions had to run late into the evening to accommodate everyone. Laurel Travis, an adjunct faculty member who worked with Alpha Pi Mu, went into action, along with many other members of the University. Travis contacted the service learning group for students, emailing them for assistance. The College of Engineering sponsored the effort, and Travis encouraged a number of student groups, including Alpha Pi Mu, to mentor the high school students at night through the remainder of the difficult year. Alpha Pi Mu went a step further
and solicited Virginia Tech’s Student Engineers’ Council to supply sub sandwiches to participants since the students arrived at 7 p.m., straight from their elongated high school hours to their mentoring sessions, leaving no time to go home for dinner. To enhance the department’s continued commitment to student successes, Sara Lu championed Alpha Pi Mu’s mentoring program, only this time for the current industrial and systems engineering students. “This became the first program of this type within
Pictured are the members of the 2013 Alpha Pi Mu honorary society.
our department,” Ellis said. Lu recruited volunteers to serve as mentors and worked with Eileen Van Aken, professor of industrial and systems engineering, to train them and develop a description of the program. “While serving as president of the organization, Lu initiated Alpha Pi Mu’s first class of mentors and mentees, and the program has flourished since she left. We have approximately 30 mentors covering all aspects of industrial engineering,” Ellis explained. When Alex Lyddane was a senior in Alpha Pi Mu, his leadership skills greatly increased the participation in Alpha Pi Mu. Voted the department’s Outstanding Senior in 2012, he has remained at Virginia Tech for graduate school, and continues to lend a hand to the honor society. In fact, Lyddane was the person, with Ellis’ assistance, who started the organization’s involvement in the Upward Bound mentoring program in 2011-12. The Alpha Pi Mu members tutor these high school students from low-income families or from families where neither
parent has a college degree. “These ninth and tenth grade students would come in from hours away on a Saturday morning to meet with us to be tutored,” Lyddane of Ashburn, Va., said. “I love service and personally get a lot out of giving back.” His actions were wellnoted by the national office of Alpha Pi Mu. In 2012, it awarded Lyddane the national Paul E. Givens Diversity Scholarship. This award is assisting him with the cost of graduate school. At Virginia Tech, one of Alpha Pi Mu’s goals with Upward Bound is to increase the rate at which the participants complete secondary education and subsequently enroll in and graduate from institutions of postsecondary education. Now in its second year, it is still too early to report success, Ellis said, but Alpha Pi Mu has added the activity as a permanent function of the group’s service. “My overall goal is to encourage these talented students to give back to the department through mentoring and tutoring and to give back Continued on next page
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The students meet in their campus office to put together another award winning submission of their activities to the national office.
Continued from previous page to the community through service activities,” Ellis said. Another example of Alpha Pi Mu’s work with the community is its participation in the Kids Tech University, a group that attempts to spark children’s interests in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. In the past the Alpha Pi Mu members have provided each participating child with $400 in Hokie dollars to purchase materials to build a tower. The challenge was that the available materials were not pieces of metal or wood; instead, their choices were spaghetti noodles, toothpicks, and marshmallows. The children discovered teamwork was important, and not to spend all of their budgeted money foolishly. They also realized – either through their own engineering common sense or by seeing the success of their peers – that building with triangles produced a sturdier tower than if they relied on square designs. “They learned valuable interpersonal and technical lessons while enjoying the activity,” Ellis said. One of Alpha Pi Mu’s most coveted activities with the community is its participa-
tion in the Relay for Life fundraiser, sponsored nationally by the American Cancer Society. Led by the ISE Ambassadors and supported by Alpha Pi Mu and the student chapter of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, the three groups are emotionally charged to participate due to their admiration for one of their all-time favorite professors, Paul E. Torgersen, University President Emeritus, a throat cancer survivor, who continues to teach each semester using a wireless microphone. For the Relay for Life event, the students must form a company, and for years they have used the name “Torgy’s ISEs” in honor of Torgersen. Lyddane explained further about the ISE students’ respect for Torgersen, saying, “I took Dr. Torgersen’s Theory of Organization class as a sophomore and it is one of the best engineering classes.” In recognition of his commitment to excellence in teaching, Alpha Pi Mu named their outstanding faculty award after him. In the months leading up to the Relay for Life, Torgy’s ISEs organized bake sales, sought contributions from local dining establishments in exchange for increased business, and ran other activities.
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Lyddane organized a pancake breakfast to raise money for the event. When the counting was done, the three groups had raised more than $6000 for its share of Virginia Tech’s record-setting gift to the American Cancer Society. Ali Reedy, of Harrisonburg, Va., a third generation Hokie, served as the 2012-13 president. She also cited the support of Torgersen for the honorary society, saying he has T-shirts printed each year that he gives to the ISE students. The group also participates in the University-wide service project called the Big Event. They spend time at a local elementary school, working on its outside grounds, mulching, weeding, trimming trees, raking lawns, and general clean-up. Contracting a firm to do this work would probably cost in the thousands of dollars. They also assist individual homeowners who were elderly or single parents. During this past year, Reedy and her fellow officers required all students to volunteer for at least one of the service projects, and she personally felt the mentoring and tutoring programs were the best experiences. “We reached out to the hundreds of ISE stu-
dents to offer mentoring, and tutoring the Upward Bound students was very rewarding as well.” In recognition for her academic and leadership accomplishments, Reedy recently received the Wolter J. Fabrycky Scholarship (one of only five scholarships awarded by the national office). Reedy’s goals for the past year included an increase in membership, and at the fall and the spring induction ceremonies, the group added 22 and 23 new members, respectively. Criteria for acceptance into Alpha Pi Mu is a ranking within the top fifth of the junior class and/or the top one third of the senior class. The student-run initiation ceremony at the War Memorial Chapel is attended by about eight to 10 faculty and staff members and Dr. Don Taylor, the ISE department head, who provides strong support to the group. “The chapter has continued to build on their strengths these past five years,” Ellis concluded, with all of these activities and more going into their submission for the Outstanding Chapter Award. Evidently, as the awards and accolades continue to flow, the judges think they have ramped up also.
For the Relay for Life event, pictured above, the Alpha Pi Mu students formed a company, called Torgy's ISEs, and raised more than $6000 towards the overall record-setting gift to the American Cancer Society. ENGINEERING NOW | 2013 | 27
Engineering design can be aesthetically pleasing but must be functional and that is where human factors engineering comes into play. 28 | www.vt.eng | ENGINEERING NOW
At the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society meeting, students freely exchange ideas with one another on how to secure employment opportunities.
Award-winning HFES student group a trend setter from the beginning By Lynn Nystrom
Imagine an award won so frequently by one particular student group that the national sponsors stopped the competition and revamped its format. The scenario happened with the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. The very successful offender was Virginia Tech’s chapter in this national group.
“We won the Best Chapter award so frequently that they stopped having the competition altogether,” said Michael Agnew, the current faculty adviser to the group. Instead, the national administration revamped the honors, allowing the top level status to be a formal recognition as a Gold Level Chapter, available to multiple groups. Silver and bronze awards are also available. “We have received this new honor every year since its inception except for the 2010-11 cycle,” Agnew cited. During much of this time, Maury Nussbaum, also a faculty member in industrial and systems engineering, served as the faculty adviser. Continued on next page
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Continued from previous page The emphasis on human factors engineering at Virginia Tech has a history that dates back to the arrival of Harry Snyder in 1970, and for more than four decades has remained the top or one of the top schools in this program area. Snyder helped recruit fellow human factors engineers Walter Wierwille in 1971, Dennis Price in 1974, Robert Williges in 1976, Robert Dryden and Paul Kemmerling in 1979, Karl Kroemer in 1980, and John Casali in 1982. Today, with the exception of Casali who is still at Virginia Tech and the late Dryden who moved to Portland State University, there has been a huge turnover in this initial faculty pool in human factors engineering due to retirements. But the reputation for this robust discipline that has uses ranging from the design of simple kitchen displays to the creation of the latest sophisticated military aircraft remains exemplary at Virginia Tech. The early students who excelled in this program, Ph.D. graduates such as Jon Kies, who is now the director of product management-user experience at Qualcomm, a company valued at some $43 billion in assets in 2012, and Mick McGee, the CEO and co-founder of EchoUser of San Francisco, a design firm that works with companies such as Apple and Google, returned to campus in the spring of 2013. Their purpose in making the 3000mile trek across the country was to speak at a luncheon pizza meeting to about 25 members of the Virginia Tech Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, about half of whom are undergraduates.
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Both alumni felt it was well-worth their travel time and expenses to share their career stories with the fledging human factors engineers from this top-ten program in the country, and maybe find a possible recruit. Kies was a doctoral student of Snyder’s; McGee had worked with Snyder and Williges. Speaking to the current chapter’s members about how they transitioned from Virginia Tech to their very successful careers, the students found themselves fascinated by the diverse needs Qualcomm has for a human factors engineer. Since Qualcomm is the number one chip making company for cell phones, it creates a lot of enabling technology that must be tested. Enter Kies with his expertise on augmented reality and ambient awareness. “We do not sell the apps for the phones but we provide proof of concept. For example, as a customer walks through a store, the app might offer immediate
coupons based on previous tracking records of the buyer’s earlier purchases,” Kies explained. The current students in the program are eager to keep up the tradition of their predecessors, and this meeting with the alumni was just one of about ten major functions during the academic year. All of the activities are entered into one final report that is submitted to the national office for review and consideration of the annual national award. To earn a Gold Award, a chapter must have activities in at least nine categories that include guest speakers like Kies and McGee. The other criteria involve: recruitment, field trips, outreach and volunteerism, collaboration, service to HFES, exploration, social activities, information dissemination, student membership, mentorship, continuous improvement, and creativity. Chapters are eligible for silver awards if they meet requirements in six of these categories, and a bronze award if they conduct activities in at least three of these areas. The mix of undergraduates and graduates in the society allows for some excellent exchanges, and Agnew believes the undergraduates, after taking a few courses in human factors, are ”adequately prepared to go head to head with the graduate students.” A second meeting this past year confirmed Agnew’s predictions as the students shared internship experiences. Ralph Cullen, Ari Goldberg, and Stepha-
nie Alpert, all human factors graduate students, sounded like professors giving advice to the undergraduates on how to secure employment opportunities while still in school. “Go to Career Services … visit the Virginia Tech Writing Center … cast your net wide … be persistent … use monstor.com … network … do email blasts promoting yourself …,” they advised. This seminar counts towards information dissemination for the Gold Award entry they will be submitting. And the undergrads heard Cullen say that after his internship, “I am now at a second level. I am a face with a resume. You have to be able to differentiate yourself from all the other good students.” Alpert echoed Cullen’s comments to the group meeting, saying her internship, obtained through an email blast about herself, led to an offer when she graduates. She was from Boston, wanted to work there permanently, and her experience as an industrial designer gave her the competitive edge over a host of other candidates. The undergrads, although not as experienced, had some observations of their own to share, and only the time constraints of having to go to another class meeting brought the informative session to a close. Cullen is now entering his third year as a member of the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society. When he arrived at Virginia Tech in 2011, the time was immediately after the only cycle when this group did not win a Gold Award.
The society was looking for new people, and not too long after he joined, he was elected president. “Our chapter had a lot of momentum and a lot of connections … I wanted to make sure we added more undergraduates. Now it has some 30-40 active members on its email list serve,” he acknowledged. “He has injected a lot of energy into our organization, “ Agnew added. Cullen, secretary of the group during his second year, did his undergraduate work in psychology at Georgia Tech, before starting graduate school at Virginia Tech. “My psychology work was really theoretical. I moved to Virginia Tech because I have an engineering mindset and liked being able to see the practical applications of the research,” Cullen said. Goldberg now serves as president, and along with Jonathan Flittner as vice president and Marc Christian as treasurer, they have a veteran staff of officers competing for the next Gold Award. Their 2013 entry will also include the hosting of the Bad Design competition, obviously taking on a humorous component. Open to all members of the University, guidelines ask participants to submit an example of a flawed design on the college campus, and what might be done to remedy the problem. In the past, submissions have included a difficult-to-find fire alarm button on an elevator in one of the academic buildings. Another one was the brown color of the emergency posts constructed around campus. “The brown color just did not stand out,” Agnew noted. By hosting this competition, they are able to draw attention to their discipline
from the entire University community, and successfully raise the community awareness about human factors engineering. And with everything they offer throughout the year, hopefully win another Gold Award.
Ari Goldberg ENGINEERING NOW | 2013 | 31
Credits Dean: Richard C. Benson Editor and Writer: Lynn Nystrom Writers: Steven Mackay and Lindsey Haugh Designer: David Simpkins Cover Photo: Jim Stroup. Also photos on pp. 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 16, 28; Amanda Loman, pp. 8, 22, 26, 29, 30, 31; John McCormick, p. 10; Stephen Mackay, pp. 11, 32, 33; Michael Kiernan, pp. 2, 3, 27; Stephanie Sparks, pp. 14, 15; photos on pp. 20 and 23, courtesy of EcoCar Challenge; Logan Wallace, p. 21; photos on pp. 17 and 18 courtesy of Building Construction; Mark Umansky, pp. 24, 25.
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The Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratoryâ€™s DARWiN-OP humanoid robots are ready for soccer competition at the 2012 RoboCup in Mexico City. The team won its division at the tournament.
ENGINEERING NOW College of Engineering Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, Virginia 24061