Santa Clara University

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The Faculty-Staff Newsletter, e-mail edition
Santa Clara University, May 15, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 15

Engineering the fun back into interactive exhibits at the zoo

Computer engineering sophomore Karen Chapski has been one of the SCU students working with the One Step Ahead students this year, under the direction of Kate Wilson, Society of Women Engineers (SWE) faculty advisor and assistant professor of electrical engineering. They have been designing a new project for the zoo: a module that will involve identification of animal sounds.

“The high school girls came up with the actual activity that we’re going to implement, and the SCU engineering students are more involved with how we are going to get this done,” Chapski says.

Reigning in the girls’ enthusiasm was more challenging than she anticipated. “They want to do all these idealistic things with the module, but from an engineering perspective, we have to tell them it needs to be very basic so we can at least get it done,” she explains.

Despite scaling down the design, the high-schoolers remain jazzed about the project, she says. “They’re really excited about having an actual engineering project, not just some theory, to learn about mechanical engineering or electrical engineering in general.”

Chapski herself is excited about the project because of what she teaches, as well as what she learns. “It’s taught me a lot about project management, actually. There isn’t a whole lot of computer engineering involved in what we’re doing, but the skills I’m learning about how to organize a team and be able to talk to people, as well as deal with the funding and time issues, are very valuable.”

Meanwhile, students in the Engineering 101 course taught by electrical engineering Associate Professor Shoba Krishnan have been working on repairing the “Do You Know How Much an Elephant Weighs” module, which has been relocated to the SCU engineering lab. Junior and senior mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering students have also spent the winter quarter troubleshooting the system, developing a wiring schematic, determining what parts need to replaced, and then repairing the system with new parts.

When the student engineers return the refurbished elephant weight exhibit to the zoo, they plan to bring the “How Does an Elephant Keep Cool” unit back to the lab for repairs.

“The Happy Hollow project has been a great way for our students to help the community while getting some real-world experience,” Rimland says. “It really is a win-win situation.”