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Celebrating 60 years of experiential learning

The School of Engineering and Computer Science celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding in 1958 from an engineering department dating back to the 1920s. Central to the school's core values is a commitment to experiential learning opportunities for students. Reflecting these values, the Cooperative Education program and Senior Project Day are some of the longest-standing and most important traditions of the school.

Learn and earn with cooperative education
One of the main reasons engineering students choose Pacific is the Cooperative Education (CO-OP) program - a seven-month paid experiential internship that is built into the curriculum. The innovative concept was developed by engineering faculty back in 1968 when there was nothing like it on the West Coast. The goal was to give students the opportunity to earn a salary while working in a professional setting so that they could gain relevant experience and also help with college costs. The program was approved in 1969 and was formally established in March 1970. The school felt program's impact immediately, experiencing an 83 percent increase in enrollment over the previous year.

"The Cooperative Education Program provided the student not only with a superior education by integrating classroom studies with real engineering projects," said emeriti professor Robert Hamernik, "[it] gave the student income to help defray the cost of college, an off campus cultural experience, career guidance and, often, job placement opportunities from a CO-OP employer."

As the program continued to grow, so did the number of companies where students were placed. They were hired for positions all over California and the United States as well as overseas in Japan and Germany. Involvement with local engineering firms and community events also increased as more and more people discovered the importance of the field. Pacific soon became a leader in cooperative education on the west coast, and coordinators for the program were invited to conduct workshops and trainings for other universities and industry partners.

Fast forward almost 50 years later, and the CO-OP program is still going strong. With access to over 200 employers and industry partners worldwide, the Office of Cooperative Education has remained a hub for connecting students with companies and potential future employers. "The biomedical field is rapidly growing, resulting in more jobs for mechanical, electrical and bioengineering graduates," said Irene Camy, director of Cooperative Education. In fact, 95% of all students who apply for a CO-OP receive offers and accept, often leading to jobs post-graduation. Through their CO-OP experiences, students have found that they are able to learn firsthand what a career in their chosen major would look like, how well they perform in it and how much they will enjoy it. 

Prosthetic dog legs and weather balloons and messaging apps, oh my!
While many students like to take senior year a little easier, the engineering and computer science seniors are busy at work completing their design projects - incorporating what they have been learning in the classroom and into real-world applications. After spending time designing and building their projects over the course of a year, the projects are showcased, presented and judged by a panel of alumni and industry experts shortly before graduation day. It's also a fun day for the rest of the students and community see and experience the projects firsthand and even talk about future senior project ideas.

"The senior project is the beginning of 'welcome to the world' where no one tells you what to do, when to do it and how to do it. It transitions the student to real-world problems where situations are unstructured and uncertainty reigns," said Dr. Abel Fernandez, director of the engineering management program. "At the end of the project, students feel comfortable defining problem requirements, designing a solution and implementing the design." These are all skills they will apply every day in their careers after graduation.

The project concepts are only limited by the students' imagination. Last year, projects ranged from an American Sign Language Interpreter, which included a glove-like model with flexible sensors, to a microcontroller and motion sensor that communicated with a motorized underwater camera to aid swimmers in their training and technique. Other projects included a video game controller that tells you which buttons are the most frequently pressed; a password encryption manager that safely stores your important information; an artificial neural network stock analyzer that uses both genetic algorithms and an artificial neural network to understand stock trends; and-as seen on the cover-a prosthetic dog leg for a dog with a deformed leg that would prevent the need for amputation.

The story behind the cover photo

Pogo, who belongs to mechanical engineering graduate Eric Zhang '17, was born with a deformed front legcaused by the leg developing against the side of his mother's womb. The purpose of the prosthetic dog leg project was to design and create a prosthetic leg that eliminate the need for amputation and would also be comfortable and useful for the animal. Traditional prosthetics are made of thermoplastics and do not incorporate shock absorption or force damping. 

To provide an ideal fit for Pogo, students created the leg attachment using a 3D scan of his leg. The prosthetic leg features an adjustable spring and damper system, paw structure, paw pad, top hat and, of course, the leg attachment. Pogo's unique prosthetic leg provided a cheaper alternative, costing less than $115 compared to the traditional cost ranging from $2,600 to $4,500. It also increased his quality of life, preventing his deformity from leading to more pain and helping with rehabilitation.

The project was completed by the mechanical engineering the senior project group of Eric Zhang '17, Carter Crowell '17, Austin Hagyard '17 and Ben Jamison '17, with advising from Professor Kyle Watson.