Santa Clara University

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Fostering a Community Spirit

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Associate Professor Shoba Krishnan (center) advised Ayesha Ahmed '11 and Christina daSilva '11 on their wind turbine project for Walden West Science School. Photo: Charles Barry

Serving the community has always been a primary goal of Santa Clara University, and one of the ways the School of Engineering does its part is by putting undergraduates to work on projects for our neighbors.

“We want students to get excited early on about engineering and how it can be used in every aspect of the community,” said associate professor of electrical engineering Shoba Krishnan. “From the very start we want them to be keen on working in multi-level , multi-disciplinary groups to solve a problem for the local community. We have enough problems in our own backyard to keep plenty of students busy.”

An avid proponent of getting engineering students excited about their chosen field of study, Krishnan teaches ENGR 110, Engineering Projects for the Community. “It’s a great course because students can try different types of engineering to see what they like,” she said. Even students who are firmly ensconced in a particular major can tackle projects outside their area of expertise, broadening their knowledge while performing a valuable service. “Aside from the hands-on experience they gain,” she said “they also build confidence in their problem-solving abilities.”

In the past year, students completed projects for a number of community partners, including the Wilson Adult Education Center, Peterson Middle School, Walden West Science School, and SCU’s own Bronco Urban Garden (BUG). Stephanie Truong, a mechanical engineering major, worked on a civil engineering project with a teammate from the College of Arts and Sciences, designing and building an urbanite wall for the garden made from leftover junk. The two sought advice from civil engineering faculty on structural integrity, scrounged material from SCU labs and a neighboring indoor rock climbing facility, and made dozens of trips to the job site with wheelbarrows full of donated materials before actually completing the structure.

“They got really excited about engineering working on that project and now they can point to the wall and say ‘I built that,’” said Krishnan. “Another group of mechanical engineers calculated how many solar panels it would take to heat the SCU pool, applying what they’d learned about heat transfer,” she said, adding “It’s really fun to witness those moments when students take the theory they’ve learned and are excited to apply it for the good of the community.”

The students aren’t the only ones doing something good for the community in this scenario: Krishnan and other faculty members teach the course voluntarily, outside of their teaching load. “Teaching this class takes a lot of time inside and outside of the classroom, but I’m learning to manage my teaching load and time while teaching this class every quarter,” she said; “I get to know the students at a completely different level and with each project they take on, I learn something new, too.”