Grand Valley Engineering

- by Brian Bowe, Dottie Barnes, Michele Coffill, Mary Isca Pirkola

The new John C. Kennedy Hall of Engineering opened for business this summer and was officially unveiled at a dedication in October. The following stories give a snapshot of the successful programs, students, and faculty members that comprise Grand Valley engineering.

For one recent Grand Valley engineering graduate, all the dire talk about the Michigan economy served as a call to action. That alumnus, Ryan Phillips, founded his own company that is poised to contribute to the West Michigan economy.

"I hit the point where everybody was complaining and worrying about the economy, but I didn't see people doing a lot about it," Phillips said. "And I said, 'Why not?' I'm not going to be the one to sit here and complain about the city that I love to live in. I'm going to take a stab at making things better and try it myself.

Phillips' company, Magnum Engineering, will be a supplier to loudspeaker companies. Magnum bought a vacant 28th Street facility and a third of Rockford Acoustic Design manufacturing equipment. Rockford closed its manufacturing operations in Grand Rapids in May, ending a 60-year history of producing loudspeakers in Grand Rapids. Phillips performed six terms of co-op work there doing loudspeaker design for car audio under the Rockford-Fosgate name.

Phillips graduated from the School of Engineering in August with degrees in three disciplines: electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and product design and manufacturing engineering. It is rare for a student to complete degrees in two disciplines three is unheard of.

Magnum Engineering was created to support other loudspeaker manufacturers and will provide engineering services, product development, testing, failure analysis, and manufacturing of loudspeakers.

"My history is with loudspeakers, specifically in large power and large diameter loudspeakers. I hope to use my knowledge to advance the field. Starting Magnum gave me the opportunity to do what I enjoy doing for at least a couple more years," he said. "I have spent the last four years developing loudspeaker models to better test them, all relating to their power handling and endurance. This ultimately influences product quality and how loud they are."

Phillips said there are no good tools to measure loudspeaker power, so he turned to some of the best engineering minds he could find his fellow Grand Valley students. In an unusual move, Phillips' company sponsored a team of senior engineering students to work on some tools as part of their senior project. It was the first time in the history of the program that a student sponsored a project.

"That was a hard one to swing by the faculty," Phillips said. "First, I got some resistance to the idea of a student sponsoring a senior project like this."

The senior project prepares students to be leaders and innovators. To complete the project, interdisciplinary teams of students solve real-world engineering design problems sponsored by participating industries and other organizations. The projects take two semesters to complete; at the end the companies who participate have an actual working product. The costs for the sponsoring industries are materials and a small project fee - the students are not paid for their work, but instead gain college credit and valuable work experience.

Phillips said that he lives for projects. Two of his student projects are up for patents, and one provisional patent has almost matured.

"One of my favorite projects was leading a GVSU team to develop one of the world's most powerful loudspeakers. We were dubbed 'Team Monstrosity,' because the speaker was 27 inches in diameter and weighed 150 pounds," he said.

In fact, it was his love of hands-on work that drew Phillips to Grand Valley. He hails from Charlotte, near Lansing, and started at Lansing Community College. He said he was attracted to Grand Valley's program because of its mix of rigorous academic work and state-of-the-art practical experience.

"What I liked most about Grand Valley's program was the hands-on nature. We have a strong theoretical side, but all of it is really designed to make you a better engineer, somebody who can do something," he said. "There's a saying that a technician can be useful to a company immediately, but an engineer takes two to four years before they're profitable to a company. With the hands-on experience we have at Grand Valley, I think we're useful long before then.

Kennedy Hall of Engineering expands academic learning spaces Building features green roof and ice bank cooling system The John C. Kennedy Hall of Engineering, a three-story building of sleek steel, glass and concrete, has a distinct front entrance, while connecting to both the Eberhard Center and Keller Engineering Laboratories on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

The 52,000-square-foot building 21 labs, office space and a multitude of unique energy-saving features. Kennedy Hall provides much-needed space for the growing number of engineering students and faculty. And, the relocation of the engineering programs to the new building makes existing space in the Eberhard Center available for the College of Education.

"It expands our capacity tremendously" said Paul Plotkowski, dean of the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing. "Not just capacity of how much we can do but also capability of what we can do."

The building will feature the university's first electron microscope. "Our students do a great deal of work other universities do not do," Plotkowski said. "They spend a lot of time designing and building and testing using industry standard tools. We now have an electronic assembly lab that will allow us to produce an entire circuit board, fully populated, with all of the components using robotic automation to populate it and solder everything. Students can do it all.

For the first time, students will be able to work in a wireless and radio frequency lab that includes isolation for the design and testing of very sensitive wireless and radio frequency devices and antennas. Another new lab was designed for educational development where faculty can prototype, pilot and work out the bugs of new instructional methods and new laboratory experiments before they get in front of the students. A new 'clean room' was designed for students working with very fine microelectric fabrication.

Engineering students and faculty members have always been committed to K-12 outreach and work with local industry, but space was a limiting factor. The Kennedy building includes a service learning laboratory where elementary and high school students can learn and industry seminars can be held.

The building was carefully designed to support study habits and personal learning styles of engineering students. "The entire building is accessible to students and faculty, 24-7, said Plotkowski. "Students carry key cards for access. So, if they prefer to work on the computers at 3 a.m., they can do so."

The design plan included research space for students and faculty for advanced technology projects. Plotkowski describes the design like an English muffin with lots of nooks and crannies. "We took those nooks and crannies and turned them into student work spaces," he said. "The two largest ones are student-faculty collaboration spaces, where a common work and study area is surrounded with faculty offices. That's so students and faculty are accessible to one another outside of the classroom and after-hours."

Environmentally responsible The Kennedy Hall of Engineering is designed to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, meaning buildings are designed for high-performance and sustainability by maintaining standards for water and energy conservation, material selection, and indoor environmental quality. The new engineering building will be the third completed LEED facility on Grand Valley's campuses. The university has four more LEED buildings under construction that are slated to be completed in August 2008.

A vegetative green roof of 15,000-square-feet of plantings sits atop the building to help limit energy consumption and water runoff. "The hearty plants on the roof add another layer of insulation," said project manager Bob Brown. "Less energy will be needed to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. Also, rainfall will be absorbed, minimizing water runoff into the city's storm water system." A rain garden, using native plantings, was also constructed near the parking lot to help alleviate storm water runoff.

"Another energy-saving and cost-saving feature is the use of an ice bank for air conditioning. Ice is used to cool the air that runs through the building at peak loading during the day," Brown explained. At night, when there's less load on the system, it rebuilds itself."

'The concept of day lighting in many classrooms and offices means minimal use of lights. The rooms also contain occupancy sensors so lights will automatically turn off when everyone leaves.

Brown said an important goal during the construction process was recycling. He said of the construction materials used, such as metals, concrete, drywall and wood, more than 97 percent of construction waste generated was recycled.

The art of engineering Steel, wood, glass, paint and fabric. While much of each material was used to construct and furnish the new John C. Kennedy Hall of Engineering, they were also among the media used in the creation of artworks showcased inside of it.

Though not a museum, more than 100 pieces of art grace the walls and corridors, reflecting the engineering activity within, while enhancing the atmosphere for all who study, teach, work and visit there.

"An overreaching theme of engineering prevails in all the pieces selected for this building," said Henry Matthews, director of Galleries and Collections at Grand Valley. Some are very obvious, some are a bit more reflective or whimsical, and a few even promote sustainability by reusing existing art to create new.

Matthews chaired the Arts Advisory Committee, made up of ArtGallery staff members and individuals from the engineering program, facilities and the president's office. Below are a few notable pieces:

  • Paleolithic Red," painted by nationally recognized artist Sam Gilliam, was a gift of William and Glenda Noakes.
  • California Hills 1,' by Stephen Duren, was a gift given by friends and family in memory of Jennifer R. DuBois. Grand Valley has one of the largest collections of Duren's work.
  • A large cast bronze sculpture,Icarus," created by David Kotker was donated as a gift of the Richard and Roberta Lieberman Estate. Other sculptural works include a cast glass screw by Rick Beck, a wood sculpture by Andrew Burton, and several by Cyril Lixenberg, donated by Tim Chester.

Gracing the West entrance is a large oil on canvas by the late Michigan artist Carol Wald. The New Spirit of 76 was the official USA Bicentennial Painting, a montage of the American spirit melding the past with the future and depicting the ingenuity of modern space flight. It was a gift, in part, of the artist and Hermann Tauchert.

Bedouin weavings, inlaid designs on an Indian artisan marble bowl, a good number of 18th and 19th century Italian and French architectural reproduction etchings, and some works by faculty and students are also included. Among them are whimsical yet very detailed prints by alumna Erin Koehler,portraying interesting aircraft.

A multicultural influence is present, with pieces from India, Egypt, China, Mexico, Russia, and the Netherlands.

"The art here is representative of the great diversity of the world community with which the students will interact," Matthews said. The collection also reinforces the longstanding tradition at Grand Valley of supporting the arts."
Building energy-efficient house also creates lesson in goodwill

Shirley Fleischmann, professor of engineering, has a possible solution to quell the country's fuel problem and it has nothing to do with hybrid cars (although she does drive one).

For more than a year, a family of eight has lived in an incredibly energy-efficient house built and designed in part by engineering students. Fleischmann led the project and has continued to collect data from the house on Watson Street in southeast Grand Rapids.

It's a model of efficiency. The highest monthly gas bill for the Powell family hasn't topped $70; gas powers the furnace, clothes dryer and stove.

"It's really a statement for us," Fleischmann said. When designing low-income housing, it's not that much more money to get into an energy-efficient house at the start, then you will realize the overall savings. Everyone is talking about the carbon footprint left behind. Well, the gas not used in that house is significant.

By comparison, another much smaller nearby house used 345 ccf of gas in one winter month before engineering students retrofitted it with insulation. The Watson Street house used about 540 ccf of natural gas over 11 months.

The School of Engineering and Heartland Builders partnered with Westown Jubilee Housing to build what has been dubbed the Green House on Watson. "More than 70 students worked on the house, continuing many community service projects led by Fleischmann.

"The students gain goodwill, but working on this project and others has also given them a chance to use engineering skills for something permanent and worthwhile," she said. I can't give them academic credit for this, but it's something that's bigger than themselves. It also fits the social contract that the engineering school has.

The Watson Street house has a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver rating. Its walls are made of insulated concrete forms, giving them an effective R-32 factor. Nu-Wool donated insulation with a R-50 factor for the attic and Rivertown Windows discounted the price for windows that are one-third better than Energy Star requirements. Solar panels on the roof provide hot water and photovoltaic cells generate 2 kilowatts of electricity. The efficient design and construction help the Powell family maintain their home and enjoy low energy bills.

Fleischmann is spending the fall semester designing a new course,Structure Sustainability and the Urban Environment, "that will teach heat transfer and how energy is used to not only engineering majors but other students who are interested.

"As a country, we totally do not pay attention to poorly designed houses. So we end up with families who are facing $400 and $500 monthly fuel bills," she said. "People who are interested in talking about fuel efficient cars should add this to the conversation."

STEPS encourages future engineers Grand Valley has taken steps to introduce young girls and minorities to the possibility of careers in science, technology and engineering through a special summer camp.

Science Technology and Engineering Preview Summer (STEPS) camp was first held at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 1997, with funding from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Educational Foundation. In 2002, the foundation contacted Grand Valley with a proposal to develop STEPS programs in Michigan.

Grand Valley embraced the idea as part of its outreach programs aimed at encouraging higher enrollment in science and engineering. Today, Grand Valley is one of seven camp sites active in the U.S. Together they have provided opportunities for more than 4,000 girls and boys over the past 10 years. The new Kennedy Hall of Engineering was the home base for about 80 campers in June. That brings the total to almost 500 campers in Grand Valley's six years of participation.

"We believe reaching students at an early age can effectively influence their choice of classes in mathematics, science, and technology in middle school and high school," said Margo Dill, from Grand Valley's Regional Math & Science Center, who co-directs the STEPS camp with Jessica Noble, Padnos College of Engineering and Computing.

The STEPS program at Grand Valley is a four-day, applied science experience for girls entering the seventh grade. While building their own radio-controlled model airplanes, campers gain an understanding of basic engineering principles and the use of high-tech equipment and customized manufacturing tools.

Dill said the camp was designed to achieve an appropriate balance between technical, developmental, and recreational activities. Students took a trip to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport to experience a flight in a Cessna aircraft with pilots from Benz Aviation West and tour a local corporate jet hangar. Campers also learned how to use GPS units as they searched for four hidden treasure boxes at the John Ball Zoo. During a guided tour of the Howmet Casting Corporation, a jet engine component manufacturing facility in STEPS camp is tuition-free thanks to generous support from many donors.


Page last modified March 11, 2014