Senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison often means the chance to apply classroom learning to a project in the real world. In the tradition of the Wisconsin Idea, students help solve problems in local communities with the guidance of faculty, while acquiring skills and experience that employers value.
This year, a team of future engineers is working to make the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences” Kemp research station more accessible to scientists, students and visitors. They”re designing a new, year-round building for environmental instruction and research in northern Wisconsin. It features a classroom and meeting area, kitchen and dining facilities, and eight guestrooms for visiting researchers – all of which will help Kemp continue to offer a stimulating environment for interdisciplinary learning.
Each year, researchers from the UW and across North America come to the Kemp Natural Resources Station in Oneida County to conduct field studies and teach classes. “The demand from scientists and students for our facilities now exceeds our capacity,” explains Tom Steele, superintendent of Kemp. He adds that the existing facilities – built in the early 1900s – are not accessible to people with disabilities, and most can only be used in the summer.
A brainstorming session on how to solve the problem turned up a winning idea: team up with students in the biological systems engineering department”s senior design course. David Bohnhoff, who specializes in construction and structural engineering, leads the course.
Students in Bohnhoff”s class pick projects to work on for an entire year. They range from a way to clarify apple juice to a machine that prepares seed potatoes for planting. The class asks students to solve open-ended problems using what they”ve learned in school.
“They”re used to being fed methods in classrooms, and following cookbook procedures to a solution,” says Bohnhoff. “Now they have to learn how to evaluate assumptions and make decisions, and how to ask questions and find the answers.” The projects also provide opportunities for communities and organizations to save money by letting students design solutions to engineering problems.
The students who picked the Kemp design project faced several challenges right away. First, they had to make the building environmentally friendly. “We wanted it to be a model of green construction practices,” says Steele. They had to solve problems with ventilation and air quality and learn to navigate a maze of state building codes and requirements, which they had not been taught in school. And, they had to make their design accessible to people with disabilities.
The students admit to feeling a little overwhelmed at first. “One challenge was learning how to be efficient while working both in a group and independently,” says Kelly Granberg, a biological systems engineering senior. She adds that what she”s learned about teamwork will be a valuable to her future career.
Others found the design requirements of the building most difficult. “We had to build the most efficient, the most economical and the most environmentally friendly building possible, while keeping in mind our budget constraints,” says Laura Franke. “But it”s neat when it all comes together and we have a building that meets those goals.”
Several of the students say that the experience of designing a building will come in useful in their personal lives as well as their careers. “I”ll use what I learned in building a house of my own in the future,” says Tony Russo.
The students” enthusiasm and creativity impressed Steele. “The fact that this is a building for students, designed by students, has left them with a sense that they are creating a sort of legacy, something that will be used for years to come,” he says.
The other biological systems engineering students in the group are Alvaro Amarante, Joel Bock, Teddy Cruz, Mike Danzinger, Jacob Holl and Aida Mulugeta. Another student working on the project, Jessie Miller, is a landscape architecture major.