Correction: This story has been modified from its original version. — "New outreach project challenges freshmen engineers," (CT, April 10) should be clarified. Christopher Williams is the assistant mechanical engineering professor. This sentence should have read, "They'
Virginia Tech's newest engineering students are doing something more than sitting in classrooms solving problems from a textbook, they're diving into the Blacksburg and Roanoke community and solving actual problems.
In a new program titled Real Outreach eXperiences in Engineering, or ROXIE, freshman engineers are becoming involved with the community and being challenged to solve problems that exist in the community.
Currently, 180 student teams of five to six students have been working with VT Engage and the Service-Learning Center to partner with local "customers" such as Girl Scout troops, Boy Scout troops, local churches, animal shelters and even the local fire station to find solutions to problems that the organizations are facing.
"This year we wanted to do something different," said Christopher Williams, assistant mechanical engineering professor, who is part of the five-professor team spearheading the program. "We wanted students to get off campus and deal with real customers and open-ended problems."
The students tackled problems such as redesigning bridges for the Boy Scouts, redesigning loading mechanisms at the food bank and creating a design for a multi-purpose room for the Blacksburg fire station. Sarah Sullivan, a freshman mechanical engineering major, worked with the Roanoke Girls Scouts to determine how efficiently heat a building with an alternative energy source.
It was an intricate process, involving meeting multiple times with coordinators, doing community service and writing detailed reports to present to the class and to the professors.
"We put a lot of work into this project - and a lot of late nights at Deet's," Sullivan said. "But I would do this again. It's rare to get this kind of hands-on experience with undergraduate research as freshmen.""My team chose a Girl Scout day camp in Roanoke," said George Sink, a freshman general engineering major. "We had to figure out a way to best lay out tents on this big mountainous field to make it accommodate the campers in a cheap and easy to maintain way."
Given a month to do the project, each team wrote a report with a solution using design tools they learned from their Engineering 1114 class. Almost 180 service projects were completed and the top 40 teams were chosen to be judged. The best idea will receive $500 of funding to implement the solution for the problem.
"This program was risky because they're first years," Williams said. "They're not true engineers yet because they don't know how to do formal engineering analysis, but we wanted to show that it wasn't the case. They're capable of making decisions. They can research and use tools to make informed decisions."
The students also completed community service before beginning to make recommendations. As part of the program, students could choose to have their service hours go toward the VT Engage service project.