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Culminating partnerships
Author: Kathryn Kirkland and Eric Gold
Posted: February 1, 2010

DEFINE A CHALLENGE, a problem, or just a cool project and then let students in the University's Senior Capstone classes go to work.

That's what more than 200 partners in the community do each year. Proposals come from schools, government agencies, local companies, and others. Their projects enable PSU seniors to complete a degree while making career contacts, gaining new teamwork skills, and applying what they have learned to real-life situations.

Here are the stories of a few of these community partnerships taken on by graduating seniors.

Will Morita surveying trail users width=

Working with Metro, Capstone student Will Morita and others survey users of trails along the Willamette River.

Happy trails to use

DO YOU RUN, walk, or bicycle along the Willamette River on the downtown Portland trails? Metro wanted to know, and it wanted specifics: numbers, on foot or bike, for recreation or commuting. Metro, which is responsible for regional transportation and trail planning, partnered with Lynn Weigand’s Senior Capstone class to get the answers.

"The students documented conditions, counted trail users, and conducted surveys of those users," says Weigand, who is also director of the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation in PSU's School of Urban Studies and Planning.

Students compared notes and discovered that Eastbank Esplanade is busy during lunchtime; the Springwater Corridor Trail next to OMSI sees steady, heavy use with many cyclists using it to commute to and from downtown Portland; while the Willamette Greenway Trail south of downtown is often empty.

The students found that better surfaces and signage would help those using the trails. Many cyclists and walkers did not even realize they could cross the Sellwood and Steel bridges, making a loop.

"Our findings were useful to Metro, and that felt good in the end," says Weigand.

wave power

Aaron Parker, Josh Dankovchik, and Stephanie Quindt proved that waves coming through a constricted opening generate power in a turbine.

Wave power packs a punch

ENGINEERING STUDENT Josh Dankovchik has always marveled at the power of water. While growing up in Kona, Hawaii, he played at a beach where he and his friends dived into a natural blowhole as the waves receded, which shot them through a passageway into the ocean.

It was a dangerous stunt that his parents knew nothing about, but Dankovchik always wondered, could a similar restriction of water create usable power?

Apparently so. Dankovchik and three other students proved it for their Capstone project. The students built a laboratory prototype on campus under the guidance of adviser Graig Spolek, professor of mechanical and materials engineering. They used plywood, pipes, and funnels to restrict water, and built an ingenious turbine to capture power from channeled water as it flowed in and out of a pool. Unlike a typical turbine, the blades reorient with a change in water direction while the shaft continues to rotate in one direction.

The students were able to generate a measurable amount of power, validating their concept. The project garnered interest and funding from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Sulzer Pumps USA, which has a facility in Portland. In fact, Dankovchik interned at Sulzer and now works for the company.

Only a prototype, the students' project would require bigger turbines and pools and piping at an ocean’s edge or an ocean-side seawall to generate a useful amount of power. However, their turbine is a particularly good idea, says adviser Spolek, because of its blades ability to reorient with the flow of ocean waves.

community supported agriculture

Capstone students learn about Community Supported Agriculture from Heather Burns (center), founder of Little Frog Farm on Sauvie Island.

A big picture look at food

FOOD SECURITY isn't about locking up your Oreos. Instead, says Celine Fitzmaurice, environmental science instructor, "it's the idea that all people should have access to healthy, affordable, and culturally acceptable food." The students in Fitzmaurice's Hunger in the City Capstone classes partner with the Oregon Food Bank to help make that idea a reality.

In each class, students receive a list of project ideas from the food bank's policy advocacy department. Rather than addressing the immediate food needs of hungry people, Fitzmaurice explains, policy advocates ask why people are hungry, and what we can do to ensure they get the food they need. Students split into teams to tackle the projects that interest them most.

Last year, one group looked at corn-based ethanol, a renewable fuel that some say diverts needed crops from the food supply. Its report helped the food bank develop a position statement. Another group analyzed public transportation routes, studying how far people travel to shop at discount grocery stores. A third group investigated the federal Women, Infants and Children voucher system in Oregon, trying to determine how participants could best use their benefit coupons.

"That was a classic example of something I would love to get to, but don't have the time or resources," says Jeff Kleen, Oregon Food Bank public policy advocate. "The students did an amazing job. Being a community partner is a big gain for us."

household energy use display

Capstone students (left to right) Kris Womack, Nikolay Demchenko, Scott Harrison, and Matt Stark built an interactive display of household energy use within a cafe table.

Home under glass

OMSI PROVIDED the cafe table, and four Senior Capstone students provided the teamwork to create a model solar-powered house under glass.

The dimensions—29.5” wide by 42.5” long by 1.5” thick—proved extra challenging, says the students' adviser, Christof Teuscher, an engineering and computer science professor. But the students prevailed. The power of 20 solar cells charge a 12-volt battery that activates 10 lights in the home, as well as two LCD displays that show power generation and consumption. A small micro-controller thinks for the system.

The idea for displaying the solar house was to actually use it as a cafe table: You put your tray on the glass top, which darkens the interior of the six-room house and causes the lights to come on. OMSI, a frequent partner in PSU student projects, decided the design wasn't quite right for it to work as a public display, but that’s all part of the learning process, says Ben Fleskes, OMSI exhibit design and production director.