As the academic year comes to a close, students across all disciplines in the Gonzaga School of Engineering are concluding their senior design projects.
During the first week of fall semester, engineering students came together to indicate project preferences. There are several ways in which projects might be proposed.
“We go out and solicit [projects] from past alumni who are working in the industry, working in consulting or in public government or city government and the like, and ask if they have any project ideas to submit and propose to have a senior design team work on for a yearlong project,” said Sue Niezgoda, professor of civil engineering and senior design coordinator.
Students also have the opportunity to propose their own project ideas through the GU’s Center for Engineering Design and Entrepreneurship (CEDE). The formation of student-proposed projects starts toward the end of junior year and involves students coordinating with faculty and potential group members to solidify their proposals.
“Our idea started forming around March  and then our proposal was submitted around April,” said senior mechanical engineering major Bailey Tran.
Senior design projects vary in terms of group size, sub-teams and clients but all share one common goal to encourage students to develop solutions for real-world problems, many of which impact our local communities.
Tran’s group contains engineering majors across disciplines and has been working to decrease the effects of wind interference on microphones in areas with high wind speed.
“An example of that would be, say your microphone is mounted on a NASCAR and you’re trying to get engine sounds,” Tran said. “At those high speeds, you’re either going to need a wind sock or housing, such that the force of the wind is reduced.”
The group’s design has gone through several iterations. First, the group wanted to have the microphone move on a wheel at the same speed as the wind. The design team then realized that they needed to reduce the scope of their project and instead have multiple microphones moving linearly on a track.
Another group composed of seven civil engineering students is developing a solution for a problematic area of Spokane’s Centennial Trail. The area is on Pettet Drive, where the current T.J. Meenach Bridge spans.
“There’s significant gaps where there’s different aspects that create issues for all users to use the trail,” said senior engineering management major and project manager Joseph Fountaine.
The group’s goal is to improve trail accessibility for all users. Currently, that section of the trail is non-ADA compliant as it has very small spaces for both bikers and pedestrians.
“We’re trying to create a path that kind of goes through this unused area and use this bridge that used to be an old water main bridge,” Fountaine said. “And so we’re using that old water main bridge to make it a pedestrian bridge.”
This group is working with the City of Spokane as their client and could potentially see their solutions implemented in the future.
“Really, our goal with this, and the students’ goal with this, is to get it to 30% design, which is feasible enough for the city to understand the scope and sort of an estimated cost of what it would take to re-route the trail,” Niezgoda said. “The idea would be they can then evaluate what our seniors have come up with for this 30% design and decide if it’s feasible for them to go after funding to actually design and implement this new alternative.”
GU senior design project solutions have been implemented in Spokane before. The Sharp Avenue renovation project was largely influenced by two senior design teams and a summer group, and the city ultimately decided that it was a good investment and could potentially even be implemented elsewhere as well.
“They worked on examining the feasibility of that project and then also designing the monitoring system that was going to be implemented to test the effectiveness of the previous concrete and the porous asphalt at filtering and infiltrating the water through the pavement,” Niezgoda said.
Fountaine hopes that his group’s project has a similar legacy and will be implemented in order to improve community access to the Centennial Trail. The fact that the work his team is doing could be used by the city is one of the most rewarding aspects of the project for him.
“When I come back for a reunion, I could see the bridge that I helped design for my senior design project. So that’s the exciting part,” Fountaine said.
The real-world experience that comes with designing a project for a client who could implement it is something that faculty and students alike appreciate about the senior design project experience.
“It’s real-world experience,” Niezgoda said. “They get an open-ended question, they have to formulate the problem statement, and they have to come up with the results and there’s no single answer available.”
The experience also, in many cases, allows students to gain hands-on practice they will need in the field that their prior classroom experience does not always provide.
“I really liked being able to build something,” Tran said. “Being able to have that process and that experience especially during times of COVID and the pandemic, that was really important to my time here at Gonzaga and was really special to me.”
As seniors wrap up their projects, reflect on their engineering experiences at GU and begin to search for jobs in the field, they express gratitude for all the opportunities that their senior design projects have given them.
“I’ve enjoyed working on it and it’s been my favorite class here at Gonzaga,” Fountaine said.