Academics

PBSC’s Engineering Technology capstone projects ignite innovation and careers

How do you teach a machine? What measures can prevent election fraud? Can 3D printing create an effective wind turbine? These are just some of the real-world challenges tackled by students enrolled in the elective capstone course of Palm Beach State College’s Associate in Science degree in Engineering Technology.

Students test theories, solve problems and make discoveries in their semester-long capstone projects, which often have industry sponsorships and usually lead to job offers. It’s a hands-on, career-shaping experience that typically wouldn’t occur until the senior year of a bachelor’s program but which the students in this two-year A.S. degree program can get in their sophomore year.

Last month, the latest group of students to complete the capstone course presented their projects to faculty, their families and industry partners.

“I am so proud of these students. They are of the highest caliber,” said Eva Suarez, Ph.D., professor and chair of PBSC’s Engineering Technology Department. “Their capstone projects were very challenging, and the results couldn’t have been better. In fact, this capstone presentation night was one of our best ever. Each of these students has what it takes to succeed in any area of engineering they choose—civil, electrical, mechanical, alternative energy—you name it.”

Rebecca Hughes

Five class members will graduate this fall term, and their capstone projects speak to the range of ideas and talent emerging from PBSC’s Engineering Technology program.

Rebecca Hughes’ machine learning project was an outgrowth of her internship with SV Microwave. This West Palm Beach-based company designs and manufactures RF/microwave coaxial connectors, cable assemblies and passive components for military, aerospace and commercial applications. High-quality internships are another feature of the Engineering Technology program, and Hughes’ gave her experience building and maintaining machines used in manufacturing, including programming and articulating a robot. SV Microwave sponsored her capstone project so she could gain knowledge of machine learning and use it in her job there. She anticipates becoming an official employee after she graduates this fall.

Hughes, who started college in California studying computer science, was attracted to the PBSC program because of her desire to be more hands-on and physically see the results of her work.

“On a tour, I was taken into the Engineering Technology lab where they have all the equipment, and I just immediately fell in love with the place,” Hughes said. “Just the idea that I, as a student, could touch any of this equipment. I knew immediately that I was coming to this school.”

Vincent Schultz

Vincent Schultz’s internship with Kimley-Horn, one of the nation’s premier engineering, planning and design consultants, also became a springboard to his capstone and career. He took on a project that the company’s telecommunications division had initially intended to outsource, which allowed him to learn and evaluate different software to determine the optimal placement of cell towers. He plans to transition to his new job at Kimley-Horn after he graduates in December.

Before enrolling in the Engineering Technology program, Schultz was in the service industry and had started a window blinds and shutters company. The COVID-19 pandemic made business difficult, so he headed back to school. The program’s AutoCAD class gave him the skills Kimley-Horn needed in an intern.

“At first, I thought I’m just drawing lines, but no, I’m actually drawing lines to create something that’s going to be built out in real life, which is really cool,” Schultz said. “I have a fiancé, and so now that I’m in telecom, every time we pass a pole, I’m like, ‘Man, that’s a nice pole right there. We designed that one.’ And she’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, here we go again!’”

Other students took an entrepreneurial route, creating prototypes that addressed real-world challenges.

D’Shantae Knowles

D’Shantae Knowles chose to focus her studies on alternative energy, one of the degree’s four concentration areas. Her capstone was a product to bring wind energy to the end-consumer for use in backyards, beaches and similar areas where wild wind accumulates. Her goal was to make a vertical wind turbine that was efficient yet sleek and small-scale to address the cost, size and appearance issues that would make owning one prohibitive. Knowles designed her vertical wind turbine using AutoCAD and SolidWorks and built it entirely with 3D printing technology. She then tested the turbine’s efficiency and concluded it would be most helpful during hurricane season as an alternate energy source when winds exceed 40 mph. In its next iteration, she would add more and longer blades to increase the surface area interacting with the wind.

“I am from the Bahamas, and as an international student with a little baby girl, it was hard to stay the course, but I did it!” Knowles said. “I took a class in AutoCAD and fell in love with the program. Then, I went further with this project and learned SolidWorks, which supports 3D printing. So that’s the direction I want to go in my career, either drafting in AutoCAD or SolidWorks.”

Knowles is currently interviewing for positions based on her presentation.

Robenson Chery

Robenson Chery is from Haiti and used his capstone to create a biometric fingerprint voting machine to help prevent election fraud in the country. The device ensures accurate voter recognition by matching fingerprints through a database. Chery fabricated his machine, including writing software and employing artificial intelligence to detect programming errors. He achieved 100% accuracy with his test sample, and at a total cost of $170, his machine would be a cost-effective way to streamline and secure the voting process.

Before entering the Engineering Technology program with a concentration in electronics, Chery had been trying to go to school for a while but had to stop a few times due to work and family responsibilities. Graduating in December, he looks forward to doing work he enjoys and is currently interviewing for positions as a result of his presentation.

“Palm Beach State is more fit for a parent with its flexibility and supportive faculty, so this was the right place for me,” Chery said. “I’m also doing this to teach my children and give them more inspiration to realize something better for their lives.”

Update (2/13/24): Invited to the capstone presentations but unable to attend, Biomedical Repair & Consulting Services reached out to Dr. Suarez about potential job candidates among the Engineering Technology December graduates. Chery interviewed at the Jupiter-based company and now works there as a biomedical technician. “I really like what I’m doing,” he reports.

Dane Wiren

Dane Wiren used his capstone project to help a friend. When his friend lost 150 fish due to a blocked water pump, Wiren created a wide area network of sensors at his friend’s farm that could transmit data wirelessly over long distances using LoRa, a new communications protocol. His friend could now set up a notification system to receive alerts when there was an issue with the pump system, the water flow or the ammonia levels in the fish tank, which would have allowed him to easily prevent this loss. The project showed that LoRa has the potential to play a vital role in small- and large-scale applications requiring low-power and long-range data transmission.

Wiren loves research, learning and new challenges. The Engineering Technology program A.S. degree will be one of three he will eventually earn from PBSC. The owner of a golf training aids company, Wiren was restless and wanted to try something new when he enrolled in the Biotechnology A.S. degree program, which led to his role as a scientific collaborator at The Scripps Research Institute. There he realized that knowledge of electronics would be a valuable skill set. He’s graduating this fall from the Engineering Technology program with a concentration in electronics. Next, he’ll complete the A.S. degree in Electrical Power Technology. He’s also interviewing for jobs.

“This is why Palm Beach State is so great—it’s that literally all this is in my backyard,” Wiren said. “I’d like to thank Dr. Suarez for having this program and my classmates who were awesome. We worked as a team, and it was a lot of fun. The program has done so much for me personally. I feel like it’s added a lot of value and excitement to my life and a lot of understanding.”

Visit www.palmbeachstate.edu/EngineeringTechnology to learn more about the program.

 

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