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Electrical Engineering Students’ Projects Offer Solutions to Real-World Challenges at MC

Senior students in the Electrical Engineering Program, from left, Zac Boudoin, Zach Crandell, and Kenneth Scott, demonstrate their automatic water sensor project.
Senior students in the Electrical Engineering Program, from left, Zac Boudoin, Zach Crandell, and Kenneth Scott, demonstrate their automatic water sensor project.

Senior students in the Electrical Engineering Program at Mississippi College are designing relevant solutions for real-world challenges that promise to improve and conserve resources with further development.

Two teams of electrical engineering majors explained their projects, unveiled prototypes, and defended their work during a formal presentation April 22 in the MCCS (Math, Chemistry, Computer Science) building at MC.

Dr. Chris Maggio, associate professor and chair of engineering, computer science, and physics at MC, said the senior students’ final presentations fundamentally represent a capstone experience where they can practice the many skills they’ve learned throughout their time in MC’s Electrical Engineering Program.

“We’re trying to put them in experiences that pull on the knowledge they’ve learned up to this point and demonstrate that they are ready to go out in the workforce and apply that knowledge to open-ended engineering problems,” he said. “It mimics some of the situations they might encounter: Here is a problem. There is no solution to it. It’s your job to work, usually with a group, to develop a solution to the problem.”

The projects take two semesters to complete, primarily because of the vast research required to get them off the ground. Maggio said the students are required to do literature reviews and market research to make sure no existing products perform the functions of their selected projects. If those products do exist, the students are charged with improving on them.

“They’re putting their own unique experience and design work into the project, so they have to be aware of what exists in the outside world,” he said. “We teach them a lot of foundational knowledge, so when they start working on these projects, they draw upon skills related to these applications beyond what they’ve learned in the classroom. They have to dig a little deeper.”

The potential of the water sensor project Kenneth Scott, Zach Crandell, and Zac Boudoin presented was evident to everyone in the room. The device detects the level of liquids present in a nearby staff parking garage prone to flooding and notifies the Physical Plant as soon as any water appears.

The team of Marina Rizk, Joshua Hernandez, and Jessica Wilson demonstrated an electronic scoring system for the Mississippi Science and Math Tournament MC hosts each spring that delighted the audience.

“The designs that these teams came up with were good,” Maggio said. “They thought a lot about failsafe mechanisms. They thought a lot about how to conserve power and how to make the products run efficiently. Many of the issues that they had in the presentations today are solvable problems.”

One audience member told the first group she would love to have a version of the water sensor device to put in her basement. Her comment brought a smile to Scott, a senior from Meridian.

“There’s always going to be flooding, there’s always going to be rain, somebody’s always going to be down in a valley somewhere that’s a bad flood location,” he said. “I feel like we set the baseline, and hopefully, somebody can come in and keep going with this project and make it affordable for that lady so she can have it in her basement.”

As with most electrical engineering projects, the water sensor device is more complicated than it looks. The project consists of two sensors – one to activate the device when water is detected and a laser sensor to measure the water’s depth. When the level reaches the one-inch mark, it triggers an email to the Physical Plant to bring sandbags to the parking lot. Water levels can also be tracked on a unique website.

“It’s a battery-powered device, and you don’t want to have to charge the battery every week or so,” Maggio said. “You want to have it run for long periods of time. They’ve designed a system that can be in sleep mode until a sensor detects water rising or lowering.

“They’ve got a pretty neat project.”

Scott said his team relished the opportunity to demonstrate its device to the public.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” he said. “Going through your senior year, working on this project all year, spending a lot of hours on it, then giving the presentation, it’s great. It makes you learn how to work within a team.

“When we leave here and go to our companies, we will be on a team. We will be presenting in front of somebody, whether a hiring manager or a supervisor. So, it’s good to present our project, and it’s good to know how to work within a team.”

Rizk, a senior from Cairo, Egypt, dug deep to help design an automatic scoring system that would not only record the time and accuracy of responses to questions for a Quiz Bowl, but assign correct point values to participating teams. She said her team was pleased with the positive response it received while letting audience members use the devices to participate in a mock trivia competition.

“My teammates and I were very happy to see everybody enjoying the project and it actually working,” Rizk said. “It was beyond satisfying, because we have been working on this project for almost nine months now. It took a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of frustrations, and at one point, you’re like, ‘Are we even graduating with this?’

“But eventually, everything starts to come together. You learn from your previous mistakes, realize you can solve problems faster, and eventually get to the point where it’s working fine, and you can show it. Of course, we were crossing our fingers while we were demonstrating it, but gladly, all went well.”

She said the system has many possible applications outside of a Quiz Bowl arena.

“A teacher can use this for classroom interaction with students, or you can use it as a gaming system,” she said. “There’s really no limit to where you can use this.”

Rizk said the project has helped her prepare for a successful career.

“The things that I have learned – how to cooperate and split tasks, how to troubleshoot, how to overcome devastations and keep working for hours if you don’t have any definite answers, how to stay self-motivated – have helped me see things differently,” she said. “You don’t learn everything in the classroom. This project taught us we can do more than we think we can. We just have to challenge ourselves. So, I’m really grateful for this experience.”

“I’m proud of our seniors and their work,” Maggio said. “I’ve enjoyed watching them as they’ve progressed through the program. It’s been really rewarding, and I wish them the best as they go out into their careers and do great things in the field of engineering.

“I think they’ll be great representatives of MC.”