During Jonathan Dekar’s freshman year, a woman approached the School of Engineering with a question: Could something be done to improve mealtimes for her daughter, whose disability limited her motion and required a caregiver’s assistance?
This wasn’t the mechanical engineering major’s first exposure to this problem. Through his grandfather’s diagnosis with a degenerative disease, he had witnessed the challenges that independent eating posed for some individuals.
“It was a basic human need gone unfulfilled — you have to eat to stay alive,” said Dekar, who graduated in 2011. “This wasn’t just another engineering project, getting food from point A to point B. I wanted it to be emotionally empowering and inspiring.”
Through four years of technical coursework, prototyping and researching the market, Obi was born.
Obi is a tabletop device with an automated spoon, robotic arm and a four-course compartmentalized plate that moves with practiced precision.
After graduation, Dekar shifted his full attention into making this product, learning additional skills in finance management and regulatory compliance.
“An engineering education is a ‘license to learn,’ and with an engineering mindset you can learn to do just about anything. It’s a toolkit,” he said.
Formally launched in July 2016, Obi has already garnered accolades. It won the 54th annual R&D 100 awards in the category “mechanical and materials,” as sponsored by R&D magazine. It was also a finalist in the 2016 International Design Excellence Awards.
The engineering entrepreneur feels confident in the mission his company has undertaken — to continually improve the quality of life through exciting and usable consumer robotics.
Dekar said he feels others should never let fear of failure dissuade them from trying something difficult. He said, “Failure is an option, fear is not. College allows you to broaden your mind and explore, and when you find what drives you, you become the work you do.”
Read about how one group of UD students responded to the original challenge from inspiring children who wanted to feed themselves, originally published in the Dayton Engineer in 2006.
About seven years ago, UD began a research project with hopes of leading to a fiber-optic, hand-held biosensor that would detect various molecules in breath, air and water.
The research group is currently examining how light passing through sensitive optical fibers can detect the presence of specific molecules, such as those present in sweat, saliva or breath. The opportunities for this device, they say, could be endless, including, early detection of disease and hazardous materials.
The research is ongoing, but would not be possible without the merging of the departments of chemistry, physics, biology and electro-optics – along with students and faculty from the School of Engineering and the Minority Leaders Program.
Electro-optics professor Dr. Joe Haus and associate biology professor Dr. Karolyn Hansen lead the research.
“I always think the middle name for UD is collaboration,” Haus said. “We get a lot of good work done when we collaborate and share equipment and ideas.”
Diego Garcia Mina, an electro-optics doctoral candidate, is from Columbia and has been working on this project for about two years.
“When you work with people from different departments you can learn from different fields and it expands your education,” Mina said. “I like applying concepts I learned to solve problems related to the fiber-optics sensor. This is an important project that can help many people in the future. When I finish after this year, I want to go back to [Columbia], continue working with sensors and find an application to a problem using what I learned at UD.”
Elaheh Ghanati, an electro-optics doctoral candidate from Iran, joined the project this summer and anticipates the device could have real health-related impact in the future.
“I am excited to be a part of this project,” Ghanati said. “…every part of the project is a challenge. [But,] if you can solve a health problem, that is the best way to use science.”
Prospective engineers were excited to arrive on campus for the annual Women in Engineering summer camp at UD July 10 – 15. Young girls from all over the United States took advantage of this opportunity to explore their potential future career in areas of engineering. The camp offered exposure to civil, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineering.
During the program campers were challenged to collaborate with each other and encouraged to develop professional connections through networking with professional engineers who came to offer their expertise.
Camper Maryleysi Cruz, from Chicago, Illinois, described her favorite part of the camp saying, “I loved making the speakers out of raw materials. It was really cool because after we made them, we could actually test them with our own phones. And they worked!”
Besides making speakers from scratch, the campers were also led to construct a scale model bridge made out of toothpicks. “It was important to work together during this experiment,” said camper Kaleah Patterson from Dayton. “A bridge can’t stand on its own.”
Alongside the campers, civil engineer professor Riad Alakkad enjoyed guiding the girls in their activities. “I loved teaching young girls and seeing their interest in STEM programs,” said Alakkad. “I liked leading them to collaborate with each other even if they are in different engineering concentrations. In the real world, no one is independent. It is the same way for engineering. You see civil, chemical, and mechanical engineers working side by side on a daily basis. I enjoyed encouraging the girls to think outside the box because that’s what’s good for them.”
For Patricia Russell, innovation comes in all forms. Not only has she taken risks professionally, starting her own consulting firm after a successful chemical engineering career, but her methods as a consultant concentrate on changing individual perspectives.
During her time as an undergraduate, Russell recorded a great deal of firsts. She helped found Minority Engineers for Advancement and was both the first woman from the Bahamas and the first African-American woman to graduate from the University with a chemical engineering degree.
After getting her master’s in chemical engineering and working in the field for several years, she discovered a different path.
“I loved chemical engineering — I liked the analytics and the numbers,” she said. “But while working as a chemical engineer, I discovered the type of work I really belonged in. It was always about people.”
Sixteen years ago, she made the leap. By starting The Russell Consulting Group, Russell was able to pursue the work she loved. Her firm works with companies, primarily in health care and higher education, to improve productivity and create a great place to work.
“A lot of consultants work on changing behavior, hoping that will impact results,” she said. “I focus on shifting thinking, on identifying thought patterns behind behaviors, on mastering ego to transform cultures.”
Russell’s engineering background has continued to serve her well, giving her firm a competitive edge.
“The strategic-thinking skills I learned help me survive the ups and downs of consulting work,” she said. “If you don’t have that strategic or critical-thinking talent, it’s almost impossible to adapt your business model.”
After more than 40 years of seeing positive results from UD’s minority and women’s engineering programs, the School of Engineering is bringing a multitude of groups together under the new Diversity in Engineering Center.
Center Director Laura Bistrek said that this effort will include supporting students beyond undergraduate underrepresented minorities and females.
“We will also serve international students and graduate students,” she said. “We will work with all School of Engineering students, faculty, and staff on understanding and developing multicultural and intercultural competency. We will also start to look at how we can serve other diverse students, such as LGBTQ, special needs, etc.”
Although the Center was started in August 2015 and is still a work in progress, Bistrek is confident that the Center will play a significant diversity and inclusion role in the School of Engineering’s Strategic Plan because of the history that UD has of supporting minority student groups.
“We’ve had our Women in Engineering Summer Camp for female high school students since 1974, our Minority Engineering Program since 1996, as well as our METEC camp for high school minority males, our Women in Engineering Program, Minority Leaders Program, Women in Science & Engineering Integrated LLC,” she said. “We also have very active affinity-based student groups. By creating the Diversity in Engineering Center, we are able to better coordinate our diversity efforts within the School of Engineering.”
When Paige Kassalen took off on Solar Impulse 2 – the world’s first solar-powered airplane –she recalled that her spark in engineering began on UD’s campus one summer seven years ago.
Kassalen, 23, is part of the Solar Impulse team that flew out of Dayton International Airport Wednesday, May 25 with a goal of travelling around the world. This leg of the journey is scheduled to land in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.
Kassalen says she owes much of her engineering success to an early foundation at the Women in Engineering Summer Camp she attended at the University of Dayton when she was 15 years old.
“My first exposure to engineering was attending this summer camp for girls,” Kassalen said. “It was where I found my passion.”
The camp began at the University 42 years ago and provides females the opportunity to plunge into engineering with hands-on activities. With the guidance of UD professors, participating students are given the opportunity to perform experiments, create new inventions, introduced to female engineers and visit a job site during the camp’s six-day experience.
“I remember that we got to make a structure that would withstand the most force,” Kassalen said. “We had a bunch of different materials. I used duct tape and markers. The winning group used 8- ½-inch x 11-inch size computer paper. That was the moment when I saw that everyday materials can accomplish great things.”
The biggest takeaway Kassalen said she gained from the UD engineering summer program was the chance to use her creative skills.
“From the UD summer program, I learned putting creativity to use to solve problems is exactly what engineering is,” Kassalen stated.
Now an electrical engineer, the Pittsburgh native is the the youngest embedded engineer for Solar Impulse and the only American on the primarily Swiss ground crew. Kassalen is one of three female engineers on the crew.
Kassalen’s journey with the team started in Honolulu, Hawaii and the mission will conclude in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, weather permitting.
“My goal is sharing this experience,” said Kassalen. “I want to inspire people by sharing that if you’re 100% yourself about your passion, anything is possible. What I am trying to showcase is that I never expected to do a historic project like this one year removed from college, but making sure that you are passionate about the degree you choose and pick good programs that can prepare you prior to college will point you in the right direction, find your niche and land your dream job.”
For more information on UD’s summer engineering program, please visit their website: https://www.udayton.edu/engineering/k-12-programs/women_in_engineering_summer_camp/index.php
The outside air felt every bit of the 35 degrees written on the temperature card posted outside the multi-story house in Springfield, so visitors were happy to step inside and escape the January chill.
The house was warm, yet comfortable. From the living room to the kitchen and the bedrooms upstairs, no location felt too toasty or frigid. The flat screen TV and comfy couch beckoned, and guests wanted to stick around for a while.
Instead, they moved on to the next laboratory.
This exercise didn’t take place in January, and the house isn’t a cozy Springfield abode — it’s a model that serves as one of five “laboratories” at The Helix Innovation Center, the state-of-the-art Emerson Climate Technologies research facility located on UD’s campus. The Helix celebrated its grand opening Wednesday, April 27, opening its doors to business and community leaders and selected UD faculty, staff and students.
“We need a place to explore ideas,” said University President Daniel J. Curran, who spoke about opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaborative experiences for UD faculty and students. “We need a place to ask the big questions.”
UD students, faculty and engineers at Emerson hope to find those answers at The Helix. The 40,000 square-foot center contains a fully functioning and furnished home, a model supermarket, a light commercial environment, a commercial kitchen and a data center. In these simulated environments, researchers can work to engineer solutions to industry-related challenges consumers might not consider when they head to the store to buy a gallon of milk or rush inside their homes after a cold winter day. Through The Helix, University students and faculty will collaborate with Emerson engineers and industry leaders to gain real-world experience developing innovations in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration industry.
Some of those questions will require exploring methods to provide efficient heating and cooling using environmentally friendly practices, topics that relate to UD’s interdisciplinary focus on sustainability and the work of the Hanley Sustainability Institute. How can a supermarket in South Florida, South America or Southeast Asia remain cool enough to keep food safe while minimizing harm to the greater environment? Can newly built homes in cold climates keep residents warm during a blizzard and keep energy consumption low at the same time?
Thanks to the engineers’ attention to detail, each simulated environment looks like it was pulled straight from the pages of a modern design magazine. Visitors joked about doing their grocery shopping before leaving, and taking their food to the simulated house to cook and eat.
If the guests had come a day earlier, they might have sweated in the outdoor heat with the laboratory exterior cranked up to 85 degrees to mimic an average July day in Miami. The engineers tested air conditioning that day to make sure Emerson products work just as well to cool off an average American home as they do to heat it.
“We’re a proud partner of this University in this endeavor,” said Dave Farr, Emerson chairman and CEO. “It’s really exciting to see where business and the community can get together to create something unique to solve the world’s problems. This is pure innovation the way it should be done, just like the great Wright brothers did in this community with the aircraft industry many years ago. Pure innovation, pure heart and soul and hard work.”
Connections. Creating value. Creativity.
The Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network, also known as KEEN, sponsored a week long event event known as Engineers Week from February 29 – March 4. KEEN worked alongside Dr. Eddy Rojas, dean of the School of Engineering and principal investigator on the KEEN grant, Dr. Ken Bloemer, director of visioneering center and Co-Principal Investigator on the KEEN grant, and Heather Juhascik, KEEN program coordinator to create events that ranged from duct taping professors to the wall to the Helix Innovations challenge. However, what remained constant throughout the weeks activities was an entrepreneurial spirit.
Many of the events, such as can stacking and ‘don’t sink the boat’ were lead by student organizations on campus.
“This week was an opportunity for student societies to further their mission for existing members and was a great way to recruit new members,” said Juhascik
Other events, like the Helix Innovations Challenge, was sponsored by Emerson Climate Technologies. Winners could receive a $1,500 scholarship and be featured in future Emerson trade publications. Students were required to design and pitch an idea for the supermarkets of 2050. Although his group did not win, sophomore participant Michael Zahorec was enthralled by the competition.
“I think learning experiences like this develop a whole different set of skills than learning calculus or dynamics in the classroom. It made me think in a completely different and less calculated manner than I typically do when I’m studying for an exam or doing problems for homework.”
Zahorec and his team came up with the idea of implementing Big Data into supermarkets. “Essentially, the same technology that is used in our student id’s would be planted in the packaging on every product in the grocery store and the necessary scanning technology would be implemented. Furthermore, consumers would be encouraged to purchase a ‘smart fridge’ and/or scanners for their fridge/pantry.”
Throughout the week, students were required to make connections, not only to each other and professors, but to the professionals working for KEEN and Emerson. They created value through all of the interactive events and exercises, and used creativity every step of the way.
While many students found themselves relaxing during the last two weeks of winter break, more than 50 students in the Schools of Engineering and Business were busy traveling and learning in China.
The business group traveled to Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou, home of the University of Dayton China Institute. Students who were part of the group took a class during the fall semester to help prepare for their experience.
“A key part of this class was identification of a corporate client that we would actually work with. Early on in the fall, we identified GE Aviation as our client,” said Terence Lau, an associate dean and professor in the School of Business.
The students who went on the trip met with executives from GE Aviation. They were given a project to brainstorm ideas to help GE Aviation grow business in China.
“In Suzhou, we were able to get to the meat of our project by spending three hours with GE executives at their plant. Students were able to tour the plant to see the three lines of products that are made at the plant,” Lau said.
In addition to the meeting, students were also able to speak with representatives from Black & Decker, Air China, and Ford, among others.
Now that the students have arrived back in the States, they are busy preparing for their presentations for GE Aviation which will take place in late February.
Mitch Tomlin ‘18 was one of the students who went on the trip, and his team is sorting through information to prepare for the presentations.
“We have to find something that they can improve on to get ready for the expansion of the middle class in China,” Tomlin said, noting that the airline industry will play a major role in this expansion.
The Chinese intercession is also serving as a springboard for a GE Aviation consulting project competition that kicked off this week and is open to all University of Dayton students. For more information on this business plan competition, visit go.udayton.edu/studyinchina or contact Terence Lau at firstname.lastname@example.org.