Engineering shops, clubs show what they can do

Mechanical engineering junior Savannah Moffitt, who also is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and is on the Formula SAE Team, leads a tour of the engineering shops on Tuesday.

Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso

GCU News Bureau

One of the projects in progress at the engineering shops: a guitar.

Jonathan Rosas Sanchez, vice president of the Grand Canyon University chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (better known as I-triple-E), didn’t hesitate to give his sales pitch.

“Why did you get into mechanical engineering?” he asked a fellow College of Science, Engineering and Technology student at the engineering shops and clubs open house on Tuesday.

The student said she wants to be an automotive or airplane mechanic.

Here’s the rub, he told her: You’ll tackle projects in your mechanical engineering classes that will require programming. “So we’re giving you the ability,” he said.

Join IEEE and, oh, the possibilities.

Students in the club can get experience on Arduino boards, learn to program single-board computers called Raspberry Pi’s and get the chance to program drones.

Electrical engineering major Philip Varkey (front, in gray shirt) introduces students to the machines in the Machining and Fabrication Center.

“It’s up to you what you want to work on,” said Rosas Sanchez. “We offer tutoring, coding classes.”

The biomedical engineering/engineering with a robotics emphasis major said of his club, “Our whole goal is to get students into programming and introduce them to electrical components, too.”

IEEE wasn’t the only club introducing itself to a little more than 100 students who toured the  shops and visited with club leaders.

Biomedical engineering senior Christine Dubas, who manned the GCU Biomedical Engineering Society table, told fellow students about the club’s work.

The Biomedical Engineering Society partners with ACCEL, a nonprofit organization serving children and adults with developmental disabilities, and the latest project involves VEX robots.

Biomedical engineering senior Christine Dubas (right) tells students about the latest projects of the Biomedical Engineering Society.

“Teachers asked us to help them start a robotics program,” said Dubas. “The idea is to make a maze and teach kids to navigate the maze.”

Across the courtyard outside the Engineering Building, another club, the GCU chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, displayed some of the items members have made in the engineering shops.

“The coolest thing is you get shop experience,” said the club president, senior biomedical engineering major Olivia Zamora. “It gives you an opportunity to come in and learn to use the machines.”

Club members have made keychains, cutting boards and jewelry.

Olivia Zamora (left), president of the GCU Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, encourages students to join.

Beyond that, the SWE chapter invites guest speakers to share their professional experiences, “And we do outreach, as well. We’ve participated in MESA Day (a national engineering design competition for junior high and high schoolers). We get to hang out with them. It’s cool to see they’re already into STEM.”

The SAE Formula Race Team also was in the courtyard displaying its in-the-process-of-being-built, small-scale Formula-style race car.

“Every year, we build a scaled-down, Formula One car from the ground up, and we build everything in-house (in the engineering shops),” said mechanical engineering junior Tyler Townley, race team president and chief engineer.

The team has competed in national Formula SAE competitions in Nebraska and California. The next one: Las Vegas.

“I just love everything about it,” said team project manager Adrianna Sweeney, an electrical engineering senior who is designing the car’s electrical system for the coming year.  “Everyone I’ve met (on the team) have become my brothers and sisters.”

Students also toured the engineering shops, part of the campus’ many Lopes Live Labs. It's where they can get hands-on experience fabricating just about anything they can imagine: a Formula-style race car, a 3D-printed mechanical hand or a robot.

Engineering Shops Manager John Berkheimer (center) answers students' questions.

Engineering Shop Manager John Berkheimer, who led students through the Woodworking Center (Room 132 in the Engineering Building), went over some of the rules: “I won’t allow you to remove these (safety guards),” he said as he pointed to one of the machines to emphasize how serious the college is about student safety.

Other rules: no open-toed shoes, no shorts. If you are wearing shorts, you just might find yourself having to wear “the pants of shame” kept in the shops for emergency purposes.

Students shot out question after question:

“Will you provide a golf cart to haul equipment to and from the shops?”

“We don’t have transportation to get to the store. Can we buy materials off you guys?”

This was the first time, Berkheimer said, that the college organized an engineering shops open house, though the college gives tours of the facilities all the time.

“I wanted students to come into the shops and experience them before starting their capstones so they’re familiar with them,” said Berkheimer, adding that he hopes getting the familiarization process started sooner in the year will help students in their design plans. Senior engineering students are required to complete a capstone project – a culminating project that caps their academic journey– before graduation.

Savannah Moffitt's dream is to become an automotive engineer.

When the mechanical engineering junior first started working in the engineering shops, she said, “I was definitely very wary. I was unconfident. But as I learned, I got a lot more confident.”

Now she was leading tours of the spaces, such as the Woodworking Center, Machining and Fabrication Center, and Finishing Lab, to name a few.

“I get to see really cool projects and talk with some smart people,” she said. “I LOVE working in the shops.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


Related content:

GCU Today: Engineering clubs get a taste of projects, ice cream

GCU Magazine: Creative sparks fly in Lopes Live Labs

GCU Today: Students in drivers' seat in race car build

GCU Today: GCU hits enter on new Technology Division deans


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