Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Engineering economics connects classroom with the community

Posted on March 09, 2015 in News
By Brian Gordon

Upper-class engineering students must take professor Ivan Most’s engineering economics class if they want to graduate. Part of their course work is community-based projects, assisting area schools solve their engineering problems.

The class was the brainchild of STEM partnerships coordinator Emily Mitchell, who works in the community engagement office at USM. Her job is to act as a liaison to area schools and USM and foster relationships between the two.

About 40 students are now part of that class working on problems such as energy audits and how best to heat the eight campus Windham school which, as of now, has no centralized heating system.

“Teachers freeze at 68 degrees and boil at 72,” said Bill Hansen, Windham’s school facilities director.

The engineering students will perform a cost analysis on Windham’s HVAC system and also see if a centralized wood-fired heating plant makes sense.

“Can we become a greener campus? Does it make sense financially?” Hansen asked.

It is Hansen’s job to efficiently heat the buildings, but to do so with a public school budget. The USM students will help meet his goals as economically as possible.

“No engineering project goes forward without someone paying for it,” said Most.

“I like to have the teachers focus on teaching and forget about the building. That’s my nirvana,” said Hansen.

Another project the students are working on is building a greenhouse for Riverton Elementary here in Portland. According to Kathy Cole, the community coordinator at Riverton, the school grows a lot of its own food in a community garden and practices composting and recycling.

If it’s feasible, they might even build the greenhouse out of recycled plastic bottles. The students will need to keep in mind it has to be handicap accessible,be able to accommodate 24 students and have the durability to withstand possible vandalism. The idea of plastic bottles sounds promising but if there’s a cheaper material, or something that holds heat better, the students will use that.

“Riverton Elementary is a lower-income school where 75% of students receive free lunch, so money is a big concern,” Cole said. The school hopes to get a Lowe’s playground grant to pay for the project.

One of only four women in the class, Kenzie Sullivan, a junior mechanical engineer major, is working on the Riverton school project.

“It’s always been a male dominated profession,” she said.

Sullivan is excited to mentor little kids and hopefully get some more young women interested in engineering. She actually switched groups to work with the younger kids.

“It’s going to be a cool project for sure,” Sullivan said.

Also working on the Riverton project with her is Matt Araujo, a senior electrical engineering major who was also eager to get started on the project.

“The kids might not even know what engineering is,” Araujo said.

Araujo and others will work with the school kids teaching them what engineering entails by having them observe the projects happening in their schools.

“It’s a practice profession. You have to get out and practice,” said Most. People like Most look forward to teaching more students the economics engineering through real world experience and applications.

“I’m excited for the future of engineering at USM,” said Most.

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