Capstone students and sponsors seek out the right match via videoconferences.
Each year, the Interdisciplinary Capstone program kicks off the fall semester with an open house event, where students and sponsors can mingle and talk about potential projects to find out who might be a good match. This year, the program held a virtual version of the event due to COVID-19. Students and sponsors signed up for times to meet with one another during a series of two-hour sessions spread across three days.
Biomedical engineering senior Natalie Sampson was excited to learn more about her top five project choices heading into the event. Talking with the project sponsors – all of whom happened to be UA faculty members – left her with a clearer idea of which project was her first choice.
“In attending Open House, I was able to make a personal connection with the project sponsors as well as to gather more information on the scope of the individual projects,” she said. “I appreciated the virtual format, as it allowed for a one-on-one, interview-styled meeting with the sponsors.”
Kirsten Bassett, who is majoring in biomedical engineering and minoring in electrical and computer engineering, was most excited to learn about projects involving ventilators and their applications to COVID-19. However, she changed her mind after meeting with Ian Jackson, a 2019 biomedical engineering alumnus who is sponsoring a project to improve the design of urinary catheters.
“Such a problem affects everyone of every age, no matter your background or level of health,” Bassett said. “I became even more excited to work on such a project because it’s something the sponsor, Ian Jackson, has experience with personally. When I met with Ian, I knew this was the right project for me.”
Sponsors also found an opportunity to connect with promising talent. Peter Gray represented the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory at the event. LBT is one of the largest telescopes in the world, located on Mt. Graham, just 125 miles east of Tucson. The telescope is surrounded by cryogenic cooling units which increase the sensitivity of scientific instruments. However, these cooling units vibrate, which can negatively affect the performance of the telescope by causing it to shake. The student engineers are tasked with designing a method to mitigate these vibrations.
“Having engineering students provides us with a good source of enthusiastic, knowledgeable people to work on some long running problems and issues that we don't always have the time and people to work on,” he said.
Stephanie Norton, an animal welfare specialist at Reid Park Zoo, represented the first-time sponsor at the event. The zoo is hosting two projects: an app to help guests learn more about Chilean flamingos and an automated animal enrichment system that allows animals to turn on features such as fans or misters.
“Both of these projects were ideas developed by our staff, but we do not have staff with the abilities to create them, making this program an excellent fit,” Norton said. “The students really surprised me with their excitement for our projects. Some even did research and came up with ideas for how to add on to the projects before the interviews.”
Raytheon, a longtime supporter of the program, is sponsoring three projects this year. Jim Bakarich, an engineering fellow at the company and product development lead at the Raytheon Bike Shop, shared information with students about their projects to build a torque robot, a specialized 3D printer and an optical target tracker.
“I look for the right combination of aptitude and attitude. The right ratio of these two attributes will help me make each of them successful as individuals and, more importantly, makes them realize their potential as a team,” said Bakarich, who also earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Arizona. “The one-on-ones were brief, but it did provide enough time to see the potential in many of the applicants.”