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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Engineering Quad

We recently visited the Engineering Quad and had a tour of the facilities with Greg Brown.  We had an opportunity to see Marston, Marcus, Gunness, and both the Engineering Lab buildings.  To be honest with you, I had a hard time keeping track of what building we were in at any given moment, as we snaked through buildings and I'm pretty sure we used some tunnels along the way.

There are six Engineering Programs at UMass Amherst: Chemical, Civil, Computer Systems, Electrical, Industrial, and Mechanical.  Each concentration has its own "home" located in the Engineering Quad (on the northern end of the campus).  We began our tour in the Gunness Student Center, an open space complete with a Coffee Shop run by our Hospitality and Tourism Management students and plenty of comfy chairs for students to gather, study, and relax between classes.

We spent some time in a space referred to affectionately as "M5," a space for Computer Systems and Electrical Engineering students to work in groups, have tutoring, and do some tinkering.  We also saw a classroom that frequently hosts remote lectures/video feeds from notable Engineering firms such as Raytheon and GE in an effort to introduce networking at an early stage in the students' careers.

In addition to the academic programs, the College of Engineering has its own Career Placement Office which regularly shares information regarding internships, co-ops, and employment opportunities.  Students can also be paired up with tutors for individual sessions whenever works with their schedule (weekends and evenings included).  There are also 18 Student Run Organizations connected to the College of Engineering!  One of the most active groups is the Society of Women Engineers along with one of the oldest Multicultural Engineering Programs in the country.

As we continued our tour, we were able to visit the "Build it, Break it" lab which is exactly what it sounds like!  Civil and Mechanical Engineering students use the lab to test the structural limitations of items including cement and steel as early as their Sophomore year. One piece of equipment was donated by the Westover Air Force Base over 10 years ago.  Students have been trying to break the equipment since then, but it's still kickin'.   Needless to say, protective eye wear and hard hats are a requirement!

Following our time in the Build it, Break it lab, we moved on to the "Human Performance Lab."  The Mechanical and Industrial Engineering departments as well as the Psychology department, has created a simulation driving environment to test situations such as: the Big Dig, Distracted Driving, Younger and Older Drivers.  There is a complete car situated close to three large screens.  The "Driver," turns on the vehicle, turns, accelerates, etc. as if he/she was driving a regular vehicle.  The image on the screen responds to the driver's commands, just like a normal driving environment.

We also learned about the Mechanical Engineering department's involvement with a Supermileage Vehicle competition called the "Eco-Marathon."  A team of students created a chassis, building gears, and modifying the cylinder.  The students manage every aspect of the project including research, design, development, construction and fundraising.  In previous years, the UMass team has achieved over 1,000 miles per gallon in the competition.  The current manager of the team was happy to meet Erika, one of our tour guides.  Their current driver has graduated and they've been on the lookout for a petite individual to replace her.  Perhaps you'll be reading about Erika's new adventures in future posts!

Did you know that UMass Engineers are storm chasers?  Neither did I until we visited the Knowles Engineering Building.  Our University is a part of the National Tornado-Chasing Experiment.  We have prepared and contributed two truck-mounted mobile Doppler radar systems that are currently deployed in Oklahoma and the Great Plains.  

A big thanks to Greg Brown for the thorough tour!  His enthusiasm was much appreciated.

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