First Senior Design Expo in 2 Years is a Success!

Thursday, February 10, 2022

At the end of every fall and spring term, seniors at the William States Lee College of Engineering attend an expo to present their senior design projects. Senior design projects are spread across two semesters; students spend the first semester learning about a problem and planning for how to solve it with their design and the second semester building, testing, and delivering their solution.

The student teams compete for a “Best Project” award.  This year, the first place team developed a fixture to be used inside 3D printers to make them more efficient for Oerlikon, a European company with an operation in Huntersville that does production scale 3D printing and sells 3D printing supplies. Other teams with noteworthy projects include the team sponsored by Charlotte Pipe and Foundry, which designed a motor gear maintenance alert device, and the team sponsored by the Bosch Community fund, which created an exhibit to be donated to the Kaledium Children’s Museum in Winston Salem.

The Senior Design program is one of the things that makes the engineering programs at the William States Lee College of Engineering very attractive. Senior design projects at UNC Charlotte are all interdisciplinary, meaning that students work with engineers from different departments. Rather than a team of mechanical engineers all working together, one senior design team might include mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and systems engineers. This is much more reflective of what a career in engineering would actually be like rather than working with a team of just students from the same department. Additionally, around 80% of the teams have an industry partner, and their projects are something that will fill a need their partner has. This means that those students not only have opportunities to network, but they also have real-life job experience through the engineering program. The product they create can be a great talking point in interviews and can help students find direction in how they might like to put what they’ve learned in college to practice in their careers.

The Fall 2021 Senior Design Expo was the first to take place in person in two years. Jim Hartman, Director of the Industrial Solutions Laboratory, which runs the Senior Design program at UNC Charlotte, said he felt very fortunate to have been able to host the expo this year. “Had it occurred another week or two later, it most likely would have been cancelled due to the Omicron surge,” he explained. He is optimistic about another in-person Senior Design Expo this spring. The in-person expos tend to attract bigger crowds, and having the expos in person means that students have better networking opportunities at the expo. Each semester, around a dozen students are offered jobs from their teams’ industry partner. However, being able to mingle with expo guests from start-ups and corporations means that students who aren’t offered jobs by their teams’ industry partner are much more likely to hear about an internship opportunity or get the chance to meet and exchange contact information with people in their field.

Historically, most of the industry supporters have been companies that would be considered to be household names, like Duke Energy and Siemens. Because industry partners financially sponsor the teams they partner with, it is more difficult for smaller businesses to become industry partners. In recent years, Hartman has been making an effort to get more minority owned and small businesses involved with Senior Design. “Not every student is going to get hired by a big company, a lot of them will go to smaller companies and there’s a lot of advantages of doing that,” he said. A few years ago, Hartman got a grant from the North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and he has been using that grant to subsidize the participation of smaller businesses. Last fall, six of the industry partners were small local companies, one of which was started by a UNC Charlotte College of Engineering Graduate, called Oxit.

The Spring 2022 Senior Design Expo will take place on May 5th, 2022, from 11:00am to 3:00pm in Halton Arena and the Barnhardt Student Activity Center. It is open to the public.