Michigan Tech Magazine Spring 2012
Enterprise is Michigan Tech’s flagship program for introducing students to the complexities of the workplace. It’s an extension of the hands-on education that sets Tech apart, in and out of Enterprises—and helps students master practical skills in places you won’t find just anywhere, like a working foundry.
Gabrielle Myers, president of the Husky Game Development Enterprise, and Ryan George, the Enterprise’s vice president of technology, play their video game Arcane Brawlers.
Real-world experience in a college degree
Michigan Tech students are nothing if not enterprising. So it’s no surprise that Enterprise is a signature program at Michigan Tech.
In Enterprise, students team up to solve real-world technological and business problems, often with support from industry. They not only get hands-on experience, but they also learn how to tackle workplace problems from all sides, as a team.
Enterprises draw from multiple disciplines to take on the kind of cross-cutting challenges faced by business and industry. Here are three examples:
- The new Hybrid Electric Vehicle—Automotive Computing Enterprise brings together engineering, business, and computing students to design the cars of the future.
- Humane Interface Design Enterprise (HIDE) analyzes the human-machine interface and develops better solutions. Chrysler Corporation has asked the team to evaluate touch screen controls in its luxury cars.
- Husky Game Development Enterprise has worked on several projects, including a video game called Arcane Brawlers, now available on Xbox Live.
L. Brad King, Ron and Elaine Starr Professor in Space Systems Engineering
L. Brad King is Michigan Tech’s leading space researcher. He is also the advisor of the Aerospace Engineering Enterprise, which took first place last year in the prestigious University Nanosat 6 competition.
The University Nanosat Program is sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory. Each of the eleven hand-picked teams built a small satellite (“nanosat”) to perform a mission of its choosing. By winning, Michigan Tech received a contract to further develop its satellite and have the US Department of Defense (DOD) launch it into orbit.
Michigan Tech’s 154-pound entry is called Oculus-ASR, for its role as an orbiting eye.
“The DOD wants to know what’s orbiting the Earth, who owns it, what it’s doing, and what it might do in the future,” said King.
Unless you use an extremely powerful telescope, satellites look like nondescript dots of light drifting overhead. Yet, those dots actually provide lots of information. The trick lies in analyzing that information, and Oculus was designed to do just that.
“In general, our role will be to calibrate air force telescopes,” said King. “It’s a very capable little vehicle. There’s a lot packed into it.”
Nanosat is exceptionally grueling for a college competition. “Reviewers come from all over government and industry, and they don’t take it easy on the teams,” he said.
Above all, Nanosat teaches the Aerospace Enterprise students about engineering design. “They discover that design is really about accountability, proving that your design works. That’s where we excelled,” King said. “Our students also know how to build things, know how to do hands-on design, and that was an advantage.”
Since 2002, Michigan Tech has hosted the Clean Snowmobile Challenge, sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The goal: take a stock snowmobile, reduce emissions and noise, and maintain or boost performance. Michigan Tech’s battery-powered entry in the 2012 SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge is pictured.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines
Tech students go head to head against universities across the nation in design competitions that test their teamwork and engineering skills, including three sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Several are also Enterprises. Here are some of those contests:
- SAE Formula Car
- Blizzard Baja
- SAE Baja
- SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge
And, it’s not just about engines. Tech students are fierce competitors in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Chem-E-Car event and the American Society of Civil Engineers Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge competitions.
Old tech is new again
Michigan Tech is one of the few schools in the nation where students have access to a working foundry.
“Many universities got involved in nano and biotechnology, and metal casting went out of favor,” says Paul Sanders, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering who came to the University in 2009 and advises the Advanced Metalworks Enterprise. “We kept our foundry. We even improved the technology, while many got rid of it, and now we find that it’s critical to our future.”
Sanders uses the foundry in his research, and the Advanced Metalworks Enterprise depends on it to develop solutions to problems posed by its industry clients.
It’s also a popular tool for materials and mechanical engineering students, who use it to learn the entire industrial casting process. “They don’t just make stuff,” says Sanders. “They model it, cast it, characterize it, and look for ways to make it better.” Once they are up to speed, students use the foundry to make a cast item of interest to them. Projects have included cast iron skillets, cow bells, broomball-trophy belt-buckles, and tow hooks for four-wheelers.
Students like the foundry so much they use it on their days off: three or four Saturdays a year, the Advanced Metalworks Enterprise holds Foundry Fun Day.