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Perhaps in another five years or so, current engineering students may see the designs of one of their academic projects working to clean up trash in Colorado's waterways.
And, theoretically, it could be because of the work they did for the Clean River Design Challenge.
The competition “is a really great opportunity for them to take what they learned in the classroom and apply it to what they may do in a future career,” said Lauren Berent, the events and volunteer coordinator with The Greenway Foundation.
The Greenway Foundation created the Clean River Design Challenge as a competition for higher education students to design and develop an instream machine that can remove trash from Colorado's urban waterways.
This year, students from the Colorado School of Mines (Mines), Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) and the University of Colorado-Denver (UCD) participated in the competition.
Students enjoyed the competition because it provided them with the hands-on experience of following a project through from start to finish.
“We got to figure it out on our own,” said Mines student Henry Myers.
The competition had two rounds. In December, eight teams presented their concept designs to a panel of judges. Six of those teams were awarded $1,000 to move on to round two — create a working, scaled model of their design.
Round two consisted of these designs being tested in a specially built flume on April 10 at the Bureau of Reclamation Hydraulics Lab at the Denver Federal Center Bureau of Reclamation.
Mines had two teams make it to the second round of the competition.
Team Go with the Float consisted of environmental engineering students Morgan Farmer, Jayce Stricherz and Mason Manross; mechanical engineering students Evan Lukens, Bud Ortega and Adiya Saginova; and civil engineering student Dan Scott.
Team Dream Stream consisted of environmental engineering students Ian Miller, Daniel Martinez and Brielle Asato; and mechanical engineering students Myers, Brenden Aleksivich and Zhongwei Teng.
“It was interesting to see the other students' projects and how they solved the same problem in a very different way,” Farmer said.
“I feel like we did really well,” she added. “I'm really happy with the improvements from the first test round to what we presented today.”
Of the six teams that presented on April 10, three winners were announced: First place went to team WASSUP from MSU, second place went to Mines' Go With the Float and third place was awarded to the MSU Trash Getters.
But “all the teams were able to take something away from the experience,” Berent said. “It was a valuable experience for all.”
She added that every team, even those that didn't place, should be “really proud” of what they accomplished.
Mines' Team Dream Stream's project performed nearly the way that the students wanted it to, Miller said.
“The proof of concept was definitely there,” he said, but added that the project still “needs a little tweeking.”
It was a fun, but difficult challenge, Martinez added. They struggled with some prototype issues — testing in an actual river rather than the flume in the lab for the competition — and working within a limited budget.
At Mines, the Clean River Design Challenge was included in the last of a three-course series of classes.
The series “focuses on providing students with the soft skills that their future employers will value and desire,” said Robert Huehmer, the project advisor for the senior design capstone program at Mines, “such as communication, project management and fabrication.”
In addition, the Clean River Design Challenge allowed the students the opportunity to work together as a multidisciplinary design team, consisting of environmental, civil, electrical and mechanical engineers, Huehmer said.
“It's much more representative of what they'll see in the workplace,” he said.
Working as a team was the best part of the project, Teng said, adding that everybody was able to contribute their individual strengths to the project.
“It was neat to work with and learn about hydraulics,” Aleksivich added. “The hydraulics of the project was new to me as a mechanical engineer.
But for Asato, the field work required was the best part.
“I enjoy doing things outdoors,” she said. “I don't mind getting dirty or wet to do the testing and sampling. That's something I'd want in a career as an environmental engineer.”
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