Source: Western Michigan University
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Western Michigan University: An engineering education with impact

Fresh graduates tend to struggle wading through the job market especially as they often don’t have the experience employers are looking for. Western Michigan University (WMU) College of Engineering and Applied Sciences graduates, however, have an edge as their degrees include hands-on experiences and projects with applications outside of the classroom.

Students have access to the best equipment as well as the chance to solve real problems. Dr. Damon Miller, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, notes that the senior design courses enable students to put what they learn to the test. “Experiential learning that puts theory into practice is an absolutely critical component of engineering education, since the real world is messy and definitely not compartmentalised,” he says.

“Real‐world projects are rarely well defined. Laboratories associated with a specific course are one component of this experiential learning. The best labs feature open‐ended projects to develop engineering solutions to an identified need and also require defining the problem scope. Many times in my career I have wasted time solving a problem that turned out not to be what I should have been solving in the first place!”

Two programmes, in particular, at WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences inspire students to take on bigger projects. BS Electrical Engineering student Adebola Oke is a member of the Western Aerospace Launch Initiative (WALI), which is one of more than 25 student organisations at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Oke and his team undertook the WALI mission as part of the University Nanosatellite Programme (UNP). Projects like this allow students to tackle multifaceted problems and find solutions.

The aim of the WALI mission is to launch a nanosatellite into low Earth orbit and a Helmholtz Cage was designed for it. “My team members and I have come to appreciate what our professors meant by engineering is a game of making precise and accurate ‘approximations’ during this senior design project,” he says. “It has been extremely thrilling to envision and implement theoretical concepts learnt in electromagnetic fields, circuits and coding classes, and then slowly mould the cage, so to speak, to specifications using this knowledge.”

This is not the only WMU project looking to the stars. Recent electrical engineering graduate Marie Bridges applied for the Michigan Space Grant Consortium Grant—a fund for undergraduate and graduate level projects that relate to the space industry and can be connected to NASA’s strategic interests. Bridges went on to present her project “A Fully Flexible Handheld Wireless Oestrogen Sensing Device,” alongside fellow graduate Alex Whipple at the 2022 International Conference on Flexible and Printable Sensors and Systems.

Western Michigan University

College of Engineering and Applied Sciences students are active in and around Floyd Hall. Daniel Nyambane is seen with a study group.

WMU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences students apply their craft to projects on the ground, as well. The university is home to the Centre of Excellence for Structural Durability, established in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), to help shape the future of transportation in the state. In December 2021, students from the Civil and Construction Engineering programme worked with MDOT on a project to rebuild the Second Avenue bridge over Interstate 94 in Detroit. “I think WMU prepared us well to meet the demand that’s going to be out there in our field,” says Emily Lange, a senior civil engineering student who was part of the team.

Early this year, a team of students, led by professor of civil and construction engineering and director of WMU’s Centre of Excellence for Structural Durability Dr. Upul Attanayake, accurately determined the timeline for applying epoxy overlays and protective sealers to new concrete on the surface of Michigan bridges. They concluded that 21 days — not the 28 required by policy — is the ideal time to apply overlays without compromising concrete durability and performance. This research is helping to reduce construction timelines and costs. “I am so glad that WMU provided this opportunity to apply my knowledge and skills to develop equipment from scratch to evaluate the life-cycle performance of highway materials,” says Naveen Ranasinghe, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major from Sri Lanka.

Western Michigan University

Learn how to put theory into practice at WMU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Source: Western Michigan University

Tackling design problems that deal with safety and everyday living is something WMU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences students begin doing well before graduation. There are safety concerns with Atlantic Avenue, an already busy thoroughfare near the WMU campus that is expected to get even busier with growth in neighbouring Oshtemo township, and to deal with it a new intersection will be designed to compare with alternatives.

Aloysius (Wishy) Laurie, a senior civil engineering student from Australia, says he is most excited to work on the design phase of this project and has learnt so much through it. “I’ve found that conceptually understanding and attempting to visualise the problem you hope to solve has been crucial in establishing the framework in which you hope to operate as in essence you are having to create the questions before you can answer them,” he says.

WMU College of Engineering and Applied Sciences graduates enter the workforce with hands-on experience, able to tackle real issues that affect people all over the world. They are able to think outside of the box, leading them to life changing opportunities. “There is no substitute for time‐on‐task; I try to recruit undergraduate students as early as possible so they can develop the knowledge and technical skills needed for their project,” says Miller. “My favourite undergraduate research projects have turned into thesis projects for students that have taken advantage of our accelerated master’s programmes.”

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