Engineering students gain real-world experience at UT Martin

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Sarah Haig (foreground), assistant professor of graphic design, and UT Martin fine arts students are pictured working on a newly-installed solar sculpture between the Boling University Center and the Paul Meek Library. The solar sculpture is a collaboration between students and faculty in the departments of engineering and visual and theatre arts, and is yet another example of the hands-on, real-world work experience UT Martin students gain before graduation. The sculpture, when finished, will feature two large flowers and a tree-like centerpiece (shown).

Students who choose to study engineering at the University of Tennessee at Martin learn far more than what can be gained inside a classroom. All senior engineering majors are required to participate in a senior project, and underclassmen often help along the way. These students not only gain hands-on experience in their field of choice, they also make a name for themselves at regional competitions.

The American Society of Civil Engineering hosted the annual conference for its Deep South Region on March 10-12 at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La. UT Martin engineering students were there to compete in the steel bridge, concrete canoe and surveying competitions.

The steel bridge competition requires a team of students to design, fabricate and assemble a bridge based on certain specifications. This year, the bridges could be no more than 20 feet long, five feet tall and five feet wide, and needed to support a weight of 2,500 pounds.

The UT Martin steel bridge team came in second place overall and first in the display, efficiency and stiffness categories. For the display portion, the assembled bridge was judged based on balance, proportion, elegance and finish, and included a poster display with a variety of view sketches and construction guidelines.

Seniors Andrew Webster, of Middleton; Luke Davenport, of Jackson; and Zack Malone, of Goodspring, served as team leaders. They were assisted by juniors Ben Davenport, of Jackson; Jacob Buttrey, of Fairview; and Garrett Wright, of Trezevant. These juniors will take over the project next year toward the completion of their own senior project requirements.

The concrete canoe competition is unique because students must not only develop a custom concrete mix, design and build the canoe itself – they must also race it against other competitors. The UT Martin team placed third in the co-ed sprint race, men’s sprint race and men’s endurance races. Overall scores from each region will not be announced until the national finals competition is held in June.

While the concrete canoe competition is not an official senior project, team captains Michael Reyes, a junior from Franklin, and Jacob Winters, a sophomore from Ripley, decided to participate anyway to gain early experience in the types of challenges they will face as seniors.

“The reason I wanted to do it was to be in charge of a project and call our own shots. We were heading it up and doing it ourselves instead of just tagging along,” said Winters. “We were exposed to a whole other side. The side that wasn’t quite as much fun was the paperwork, but now, hopefully, going into our senior projects in a few years, we’ll know better what to do.”

“Now that we have been exposed to leading a project like this, I think we’ll be significantly more prepared for it once we actually do our senior projects because we’ve seen it before, we understand what’s involved and how important the planning process actually is,” added Reyes.

Reyes and Winters had help from team members Charlie Brackeen, a sophomore from Humboldt; Samuel Reeves, a senior from Milan; Stephen Harris, a senior from Beech Bluff; Marne Helbing, a junior from Gilbert, Ariz.; Abby Masters, a senior from Huntington Beach, Calif.; and Wade Anderson, a sophomore from Bellevue. Reeves, Harris, Melbing and Masters served as team rowers and put UT Martin on the podium in three different races.

“A lot of engineers, especially civil engineers, know about the steel bridge and concrete canoe (competitions). That’s kind of a big deal. So I think seeing that on our resumes will help them see we were active, especially since it wasn’t a mandatory thing, it was a voluntary thing,” said Winters.

UT Martin also sent three senior students to participate in the surveying competition, which required teams to measure distances and elevations using traditional surveying methods and equipment within a specified area and limited time.

Wesley Williams, of Dyersburg; Ethan Clark, of Newbern; and Webster competed against 13 other universities and won first place in the level loop competition and first place overall for their conference.

Nothing can replace the experience students receive from real-world, hands-on experiences like the ASCE competitions, and UT Martin students are well-prepared to enter their chosen careers after graduation.

“This was the best year that UT Martin ASCE has ever had at the conference competition,” said Dr. Ray Witmer, associate professor of engineering.

“The civil engineering students and faculty here at UT Martin are second to none,” said the steel bridge team via email interview. “We compete against much larger schools with much larger budgets. Even though we are one of the smallest schools in our conference, we still have more participation from our members than most other schools. Not all schools came to the competition with the faculty support with which we are blessed.”

The UT Martin Department of Engineering is housed within the College of Engineering and sciences, Natural Sciences, and concentrations are available in civil, mechanical and electrical engineering.