Projects Day Reaches New Heights for C&ME
by Maj. Adrian Biggerstaff, Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering
On April 28, 2016, the department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering filled West Point’s Kimsey Center with project posters, 3-D printed aircraft, hip actuators, a concrete canoe, and many other gadgets and designs that represented a year of hard work by many civil and mechanical engineering majors. Outside the center visitors explored static displays of a steel bridge, an all-terrain vehicle, an energy efficient building, the USMA Spirit Tank, and a t-shirt cannon. In total the department’s Projects Day event attracted over 700 people who included judges, project sponsors, distinguished guests, visitors, faculty, cadets, and students from the West Point Middle School and local high schools.
The department showcased a total of 45 capstone projects and independent studies that ranged from designing future facilities on West Point to creating wearable controls for ground robots. Throughout the day, cadets presented their year-long efforts to excited audiences. Many middle and high school students were blown away by the “coolness” of the projects. After remotely controlling a robot with his forearm, one West Point Middle School student excitedly proclaimed that “everything here is so awesome” and that he wanted to “do something like this one day.” Approximately 140 West Point Middle school students attended a presentation by the 2016 Steel Bridge Team who discussed their experiences designing and building a bridge. When asked, the 6th and 8th grade students thought the project was “really cool, but looked like a lot of work.”
All the cadets presenting projects agreed that the projects were a lot of work, but most cadets admitted that the experience was extremely rewarding. Cadet Grant Ringelman, a senior Mechanical Engineer who designed a foldable v-notch weir, echoed other cadets when stating that his project experience taught him to “test the design early and often, create a schedule, and hold project members accountable.” Other cadets emphasized the importance of seeking assistance from experts outside their group and sometimes beyond the department when they needed additional knowledge. Civil Engineering major, Cadet Abigail Imelio, said that she “would apply that lesson when [she is] a 2nd Lieutenant and doesn’t know a lot about Army operations.”
Cadet Antelmo Del Angel, a Mechanical Engineering major, explains his device to Ella Fox, inspiring a potential future engineer. (Photo by Lt. Col. Brad Wambeke)
Cadets Ryan Kowal and Zach Cohen, Class of 2017 Civil Engineering majors, explain their results in modeling Ultra-High-Performance Concrete. (Photo by Mr. Eddie Ryan)
Many project teams identified other lessons and real-world experiences from their capstone projects that will help them as they graduate from West Point next month. Cadet Zac Boeckmann, Mechanical Engineering major, worked on the Warrior Web Exosuit Project and commented that “there were many frustrations and challenges working within the project’s constraints and working with multiple stakeholders.” He acknowledged this is something he will experience in the Army and his experience has better prepared him for those future challenges.
When presenting their work, cadet teams were quick to identify the goals or objectives they reached throughout the year, but cadets were equally proud to explain their failures and the valuable lessons and insights that came from those failures. Validating the utility of the capstone experience for graduating civil and mechanical engineers, Cadet Marshall Kobylski, Civil Engineering major, commented that he “learned more about design by working on [his] project than [he] had during four semesters of taking design courses…and having a 3-D object to work on was invaluable.”
The department invited many distinguished judges and guests to observe the cadets’ impressive efforts over the past year. The Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, attended along with retired Lt. Gen. William Grisoli, Maj. Gen Anthony Funkhouser, retired Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin, and Brig. Gen. James Raymer. Colonel Pam Melroy, USAF (Ret.), Deputy Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Tactical Technology Office and former NASA astronaut, was the keynote speaker at the event. She motivated cadets, faculty, and visitors to pursue careers in technology by sharing her career progression, her engineering challenges as an astronaut, and giving the audience a preview of several emerging technologies. Project sponsors representing a wide range of interests participated in this year’s department showcase, including: several of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Centers (RDEC) – including the Natick Soldier (NSRDEC), Armament (ARDEC at Picatinny Arsenal), Tank and Automotive (TARDEC); the Maneuver Battle Laboratory and the Maneuver Center of Excellence from Fort Benning, GA; the Lincoln and Draper Laboratories affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Army and Air Force Research Laboratories (ARL and AFRL); academic leaders from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and many others.
The 2016 Projects Day event exceeded the department’s objectives of showcasing the civil and mechanical engineering majors’ great accomplishments, communicating the department’s relevance in advancing the Army through technical research, and inspiring cadets and other students to become future leaders in engineering and technology.