Nearly $50,000 in prizes. Recognition for nine months of hard work. Impending graduation. That’s what Craig M. Berge Design Day will bring the class of 2024 at the end of this academic year.
“We get there from this day forward,” said David Hahn, the Craig M. Berge Dean of the college, beginning this year’s open house in the Student Union Memorial Center ballroom by addressing the project sponsors.
Steve Larimore, lead instructor for the Interdisciplinary Capstone program, then updated the sponsors on the college’s efforts to continually improve the program.
Last year, for example, the college opened the Engineering Design Center to give all engineering students, and Interdisciplinary Capstone teams in particular, a well-equipped makerspace to realize their designs. This year’s seniors will have access throughout the academic year.
In gauging the college’s progress, Larimore said, he examines the overall scores judges award to projects on a year-to-year basis.
“Last year we had the best scores we’ve ever had,” he said.
Making a Match
Just after the sponsors’ meeting, hundreds of students filled the ballroom to learn about the projects on offer and place requests for their desired spots, leading to matching with a project and team.
“I’m definitely excited and a little nervous, too,” said mechanical engineering major Landry Guerin. “I’m starting to formulate ideas on how to tackle these projects.”
Electrical and computer engineering major Gloria Romero wanted to explore opportunities that would provide more experience and help her land a job after graduation.
“I’m interested in anything that has to do with electrical circuit design or robotics. I want to try something different, a little more on the fun side,” she said.
One Summer to Sponsorship
Andrew Arias graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in sustainable plant systems in controlled environments and is already sponsoring a project for his startup company, NexoTerra. He founded NexoTerra as a student with the help of the University of Arizona McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship New Venture Development Program.
NexoTerra repurposes plant waste into sustainable, bio-based products. The company’s primary product is a plant growth medium used in hydroponics. The medium can support growth of a variety of plants, including leafy greens and many herbs. It also helps cannabis grow, and it’s made from waste produced by cannabis grow facilities and hemp farmers.
Currently, said Arias, cannabis waste is first bleached, burned or ground up with other waste such as coffee grounds, then it’s buried in a landfill.
“We’re trying to do something more sustainable and reduce the carbon footprint and just give it more value,” he said.
For the Interdisciplinary Capstone project, NexoTerra-sponsored Team 24051 will design and build a model of pressing machinery and conceptualize a chemical process to efficiently convert the waste into usable material.
“We can further use that research and development to apply for more grants and take this further, to a commercial level,” Arias said.
Arias and his colleagues are working with Arizona Center for Innovation and have an office at the UA Tech Park.
“Everything is becoming very official, a lot of things are happening, and it’s very exciting,” he said. “The university has really supported us throughout, and I’m grateful.”