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A group of 23 senior civil engineering majors will present recommendations to the Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority on how to improve and renovate its sewage treatment plant 7 p.m. Monday in Acopian Engineering Center room 315.

Authority board members, Easton’s director of public works, and city officials will be present for the final presentation of the senior design class, which has worked in teams on four elements of the sewer redesign for the capstone course of their major.

The class is taught by Roger Ruggles, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Steve Kurtz, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. Each spring, the course gives civil engineering seniors the opportunity to work on a local project in a way that mirrors what they’ll be doing as professionals after they graduate.

This semester’s projects include assessing the plant’s structural design and devising a new facility, developing a computer model of the plant’s infrastructure, creating a computer model of the sewage collection system, and evaluating the process in which sludge is disposed.

Ruggles, who also is a sewer authority board member, says the project came about after the board began to recognize that the treatment plant and collection system could be improved.

“There were some issues with the sewer lines and after talking to other board members and the authority’s engineer, we determined this might be a good project for the students,” he says. “They get a lot of interaction with professionals in the field and having that interaction is a very beneficial thing because they get to talk with them and get their perspective on things — it’s not just a faculty member saying ‘This is how things are.’”

Mike Nilson(Wantagh, N.Y.) says the project goes far beyond anything he could have learned through lectures or coursework.

“It’s an actual design project for a client,” says Nilson, a member of the team creating the model of the collection system. “It’s not straight out of a textbook; we have to deal with ethics and [professionals] and residents. Interacting with those sorts of people is something you don’t normally get from sitting in a classroom.”

Like many civil engineering majors, Nilson, who also is minoring in mathematics, has interned at professional engineering firms.

“I know personally that this is a very applicable project to the real world; it’s consistent with what I’ve seen,” he says.

While it can be a challenge to work with such a wide variety of people — classmates, authority engineers, and city personnel — it has been a valuable experience, says Ronald Manney(Coal Township, Pa.).

“You learn a lot of different problem-solving skills and you also learn to deal with people who work with the different towns and companies, which really gives you real-world experience,” he says.

With only 14 weeks to do the work, time is of the essence, but just trying to get a piece of information from one of the professionals can take days of leaving multiple messages, arranging pick-up times, and obtaining additional explanation, says Manney.

“At first it was tough to get the picture across that we were attempting to solve their real-world problem by addressing it with an educational twist,” Nilson says. “It was hard to convince some people that we knew what we were doing,”

Nilson adds that sewer plant personnel and engineers were quite busy dealing with the flooding in Easton throughout the late winter, leaving less time to deal with improving the sewer treatment plant.

Another challenge for the class was having to revamp plans.

“In the beginning of the course, we could design anything we wanted to and our goals just kept changing,” Manney says. “We would hit a wall or a limitation after receiving a set of data and have to re-think what we were doing. So basically throughout the whole semester, we’ve been shifting the design.”

But overcoming the hurdles and successfully completing the project has been a boon to the students.

“I think it has given them confidence to see that they can do it and recognize that this is a real-world situation,” Ruggles says. “There are engineers working for the authority who are doing the same things as them and the students recognize that. I’ve conducted some exit interviews with students and they are confident that their abilities will take them where they want to go. Those going into the consultation world are saying, ‘Yeah, I’m ready.'”

Manney, who will put his academic specialty of geo-technical civil engineering to use this June when he begins working at Langan Engineering and Environmental Services in New Jersey, couldn’t agree more.

“It’s really helped me in getting ready to go to work,” he says. “Even by giving presentations to other teams, interacting with them, and depending on them for different data and types of materials, we see the kinds of problems they have and learn from them so in life, when we eventually run into similar problems, we’ll remember how they dealt with them. It’s like learning case studies.”

Nilson, who recently accepted a position at Langan’s New York City office, believes the project bolstered his confidence and made him a more attractive candidate.

“When I was on my interview with Langan, they told me they had seen other candidates come in from Lafayette and the way the senior design project is run is not something seen in other schools,” Nilson says. “So it’s something we do that’s unique and apparently something we do well.”

Nilson’s extracurricular activities include membership in the student chapters of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Tau Beta Pi engineering academic honor society, and the Steel Bridge Team. He also plays trumpet in the Jazz Ensemble and in the pit orchestra for the Marquis Players. He graduated from General Douglass McArthur High School.

Manney is a member and former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers and also belongs to Tau Beta Pi and the Steel Bridge Team. He plays many intramural sports and is a former peer tutor and Habitat for Humanity volunteer. He graduated from Shamokin High School.

In addition to Nilson and Manney, class members include Blaire Banagan (Delmar, N.Y.), Christopher Biniek (Cranbury, N.J.), Stephen Bono (Upper Saddle River, N.J.), Susan Bowers (Williamsport, Pa.), Jeffrey Chittim (Barrington, R.I.), Jeffrey Crowe (Norwalk, Conn.), Kyle DeLabar (North Catasauqua, Pa.), Robert Fioretti (Sparta, N.J.), Kevin Fitzpatrick (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.), Sandra Henning (Jarrettsville, Md.), Edward Hughes (Lansdale, Pa.), Cristin MacDonald (Glendora, N.J.), Fidel Maltez(Miami, Fla.), Allison McGann (Quincy, Mass.), Jeremiah O’Neill (Newburyport, Mass.), William Park (Williston, Vt.), Brian Roach (Derwood, Md.), Julia Rosenbloom (Elkins Park, Pa.), Bradford Ship (Needham, Mass.), Matthew Taverna (Whitesboro, N.Y.), and John Zoller (Wall, N.J.).

Categorized in: Academic News