Hands-on courses enhance learning

John Pekcan / Daily Titan

John Pekcan / Daily Titan

Students go out into the back country of places like the Sierra Nevada and collect environmental data such as stream flow, vegetation density and species composition.

Meteorological data, like temperature, relative humidity levels and wind speeds are also obtained.

Trekking through fields, conducting research and collecting environmental samples all for a classroom project is just part of what students enrolled in Geography 483, Mountain Field Geography, do for their capstone course.

At the end of the trip, students compile collected data into a scientific report about what they found and why things varied from location to location.

The capstone course is taught by James Miller, Ph.D., a geology professor, and is offered during one of the five-week summer sessions.

Miller said the fundamental part of the course is to introduce and expose students to the realities and difficulties of doing research in the backcountry.

“You can’t just decide, ‘I’m tired, I’m going to McDonald’s,’” he said. “You have to carry everything in and carry everything out. And sometimes the weather isn’t always cooperative.”

Aside from geography majors, students from very different disciplines, from criminal justice to psychology, have also joined in on the trip, Miller said.

Throughout the university, capstone courses are a requirement for many majors.

Throughout the semester, students in Mechanical Engineering 414 and 419 work on designing and constructing various prototypes, including robots, assistive devices and racecars.

The main goals of the courses are to promote innovation in engineering design and educate CSUF students about competent mechanical engineering in the industry.

The classes revolve around hands-on activities by “targeting real-life mechanical engineering problems and seeking innovative solutions,” said Nina Robson, a mechanical engineering professor.

It’s a year-long course in which students break into five teams. Each team is responsible for their own project.

In the fall, students focus on the design aspects of their projects, which includes performance modeling, design drawings and component selection.

In the spring, students work on constructing the devices and prototypes, emphasizing on manufacturing techniques, 3D design and testing.

One of the five projects this year is an iron knee—an assistive walking device for people who are missing a leg.

Other projects include the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), which has to be able to take off and land on its own; the Multifunctional Automated Turret (MAT), a robotic device that sprays paint; and an M2J2, a light-weight robot manipulator.

Another major project is the Formula SAE Race Car, which is being built for the 2013 FSAE competition that takes place in June in Lincoln, Neb.

Bryan Humburg, a mechanical engineering major, is one of the many students working on the Formula SAE Race Car. He’s responsible for designing the hub, wheels and locking system.

“It’s a really good experience to take into the workplace, because the club in general is so much like the actual workplace,” said Humburg. “You’re collaborating with people, everybody’s designing separate parts and it all has to fit together in the end. There’s not a whole lot of time to mess things up.”

Robson, who teaches the two courses, has been pushing to keep the projects multidisciplinary so students can be familiarized with working in multidisciplinary teams in the industry in the future.

“Until now, the classes had been not so multidisciplinary,” said Robson. “Now I’m working with collaborators from the computer science department. I have two students from computer science working on one of the projects.”

There are also eight students from the Electrical Engineering Department working and assisting the Formula SAE team, she said.

Students from EGME 414 and 419 will be giving their final presentation on May 16, where they will be speaking about their projects and demonstrating how their devices work in front of several collaborators and industry partners.

About Jennifer Nguyen