First graduates complete the engineering circuit

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Isaiah Slemons lives with a rare skin disease, a personal experience that pushed him to become a biomedical engineer.

Isaiah Slemons spent most of his childhood in and out of hospitals.

He was just 6 years old when his family found out he suffers from a rare skin disease – something he lives with even now, though it’s not something that seems to keep him down.

“My body can’t deal with heat and friction, so I get these super big lacerations on my body,” said Slemons, who pointed to some of those lacerations on his skin late Thursday afternoon on the first floor of Grand Canyon University’s Engineering Building, where he gathered with his fellow engineering graduate candidates for a reception just three or so hours before they all would walk across the stage at one of the University's eight commencement ceremonies over three days.

Being around hospitals and doctors so much growing up, Slemons knew what he wanted to do with his life.

“I knew that I wanted to change somebody’s life the way that somebody had changed mine,” said Slemons, who graduated Thursday with his Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering. “I had surgery and I had to use a medical device every day for the rest of my life, and so being in a place where now I can go make medical devices that will change someone’s life is where I want to be.”

Mechanical engineering graduate Tayler Holden celebrates after receiving her degree. She'll be designing fire suppression systems for Western States Fire Protection Co. after graduation.

Slemons and the other mechanical, electrical and biomedical engineering graduates made GCU history after walking the stage at commencement, becoming the University’s first engineering graduating class. Thirty-eight completed degree requirements with a few others permitted to walk the stage as they ready themselves to complete coursework over the summer.

GCU sending out its first engineers into the world marks the beginning of a new era in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – at the University, though those efforts really started more than four years ago. The engineering program launched in 2015, the new Engineering Building opened its doors in 2016, and the building's engineering wing made its debut in 2017.

Mechanical engineering graduate Joel Conrad will start his first post-college job in the summer at Honeywell Aerospace, where he'll be testing jet engines.

Mechanical engineering graduate and Honors College scholar Joel Conrad knows exactly which of the many projects he dived into during his five years at GCU was his favorite: his capstone project, a yearlong endeavor that started in the spring with the conception, design and planning phase and moved on to the building phase in the fall.

“It was a HUGE project with hours and hours and weeks and months put into it,” said Conrad. “So to see it all come together, in the end, was really cool.”

He and his team – Conrad worked with three others – built a solar testing platform and used it to compare three different solar technologies against one another.

It isn’t the only project he’s worked on.

He built GC-49’s with other engineering students – GCU’s own replicas of “Star Wars” robot BB-8 -- and then there was the pressure transducer, which involved building an instrument from scratch, including the circuitry, that could measure pressure from 1 to 100 psi.

Conrad first stepped onto campus as a computer science major in 2014, though he really had his eye on becoming an engineer and switched majors when the engineering program started in 2015.

“I kind of got into it because I liked building things. I liked taking things apart. Mechanics was interesting to me, but I kind of wanted to see what it would be like to be the designer behind all the cars, motorcycles and planes,” he said.

Conrad said he made it through some pretty tough classes, such as his dynamics systems class, but an even bigger challenge was trying to balance school, work and internships. He has completed three internships since he’s been a Lope – for Phoenix Heat Treating, Escape Velocity Mechanical Design and Benchmark Electronics. He worked for the Honors College, too.

All that work has paid off. Conrad will soon begin his first post-college job at Honeywell Aerospace.

“I’m going to be testing their new jet engines,” he said with a smile.

Electrical engineering graduate Cameron Brown stands beside his capstone project, a mobile solar testing platform.

Electrical engineering graduate Cameron Brown worked with Conrad on the solar panel capstone project. Like Conrad, he considers it the pinnacle of his time at GCU.

“The idea is they’re all different in how they perform and function. For example, temperature might affect them differently, so our idea was to have three panels side by side, so the exact same conditions … that allows the students to see how they’re different,” Brown said.

The panels will be stored in the Power Lab and the hope is that the students who follow them will be able to test their solar panel projects in the future using the mobile solar testing platform he worked on.

“It’s really cool,” he said, to be among the first GCU engineering graduates, knowing that he’s helped paved the way for future Lopes engineering majors. He said since GCU’s program is so new, the University has not yet established a reputation in the industry. But that will change.

“I’m hopeful, because we have a really good group of people, and I know we’ve learned a lot,” he said.

Mechanical engineering graduate Rachael Wecker, who displayed her decorated graduation cap, is beginning a job with ON Semiconductor.

Mechanical engineering major Rachael Wecker is one of about a half-dozen women engineering graduates who are part of the first engineering cohort.

“I’ve always been good at math and science; it’s always been my passion and I really wanted to pursue that in my career,” she said at Thursday’s pre-commencement engineering reception. “I thought I wanted to build rocket ships, and then when I actually got into the degree program, I wanted to do business instead, so I continued with my engineering degree but I decided to go into a business-oriented career in the technology field.”

Wecker completed a two-year internship at ON Semiconductor and wants to pursue a master’s degree in business. She said the pinnacle of her time at GCU also was working on her yearlong capstone project.

“We built an electronic leg brace. It was awesome. I loved it,” she said of the brace, which includes electrotherapy and cooling circuits along with a compression device that supports the knee after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery. “We wanted to make something that would be really impactful for a lot of people.”

Christian Clifton (center) , who worked in the Lopes Lab during his time at GCU, received his mechanical engineering degree on Thursday night.

Like so many of her fellow engineering graduates, Wecker also will start her first professional, post-college job this summer. She was offered a full-time position with ON Semiconductor as a sales operation analyst, putting together revenue metrics and doing revenue reporting and customer coding.

Slemons, who transferred to GCU from the University of Utah, looks back over his time here and can’t really hone in on one project of his that stands out more than the engineering program itself.

“I’m really proud of the whole program and making it through every class,” said Slemons, who already is working as a medical diagnostician, testing people for what cancers they might have. “What sticks out to me is the quality of the faculty – the mentors that we had – especially in biomedical -- that really cultivated a love for engineering.”

Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


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