The University Record, September 13, 1999

Engineering’s Wilson Center provides home for team projects

By Theresa Maddix

Vehicles are judged in competitions for engineering design and safety, cost, acceleration, top speed and creativity. Photo by Paul Jaronski
“There are some things that all engineers hold dear and one of these things is duct tape,” said Stephen Director last week during the dedication of the Walter E. Wilson Student Project Center.

A duct tape—in lieu of ribbon—cutting followed his remarks Sept. 9. The $5 million center, adjacent to Maya Lin’s Wave Field, will allow “students to build automobiles, boats, helicopters and ships,” said Director, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering.

The Wilson Center, a tribute to the generosity of Walter E. “Ed” Wilson, “reaffirms the University’s commitment to providing students with the best hands-on experience possible,” he said.

J. Wayne Jones, associate dean of engineering undergraduate education, stressed the creative outlets the Center offers. “Engineering is increasingly regarded as a highly creative process. It demands teamwork and high leadership skills.

“In this center, we will learn by doing. Perhaps this will be our greatest creative experience,” he said.

Visitors were treated to a look at student projects and a tour of the new facility before the dedication.

Center Director Donald F. Geister gave a verbal tour of the facility and talked about the “where, where, where, who, who, who” problem students have had with their projects. He explained the problem with examples: Where do we meet? Where do we put our project together? Where do we store it? Who do we talk to about reserving a room? Who can help us fund the materials? Who do we need to work with on the faculty?

In the past, 80 percent of students’ time was spent dealing with “where, who” difficulties and only 20 percent on the “how” part of the equation, according to Geister. The Center will reverse the equation, with 80 percent of their time devoted to design and solving physical problems and 20 percent spent on “who, where.”

Jonathan Paul, project manager for the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) mini-baja (off road vehicle) team, pointed out the team’s work space. He sees the Center as a terrific opportunity for the team with “all new machinery, more of it and computer numerical control technology.”

When Emily Burmeister of the human-powered submarine project was asked why she joined a project team, she said, “It’s pretty cool. I can be helpful and make a difference and try the things I want to.” The human-powered submarine team has completed the design process and will begin construction soon at the Wilson Center.

The human-powered helicopter team is a new project that will grow with the Center. Dan Patt, project leader, said a model helicopter will be built this fall term, the actual copter in winter and spring.

A member of the solar electric boat team said he joined the group because he had not “had many opportunities to work on something real.” The new X-99 solar electric boat model will soon be moved from the Marine Hydrodynamics Lab.

Teams working on the formula car, steel bridge, future car, solar car, concrete canoe and micro-truck also will use the Center.