Students Solutions to COVID Challenges

West Students Engineer Solutions to COVID Challenges
Posted on 02/23/2021
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engineering COVID challenges collageWhen given the chance to find a problem and solve it, students in Jim McClure’s Engineering Design & Development capstone class looked no further than the halls of Lakota West High School. In the end, their work in the Butler Tech satellite course yielded industry-recognized certifications and viable solutions to two different challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic this school year.

“This year, it’s all them and that’s the way the curriculum is supposed to be. Students go out and find the problem and then find the solution,” said McClure, noting how this year’s “no visitor” policy encouraged him to look at capstone projects a bit differently. Rather than linking groups up with local businesses seeking specific solutions, he gave students more free reign. 

The approach aligned perfectly with the course’s addition of the Lean Six Sigma yellow and green belt industry-recognized certifications, which actually train participants to dig deeper into the problem and find the root cause before actually tackling the solution. Throughout the course of their first semester projects, his students earned both certifications - distinctions more frequently gained at the college level - while simultaneously completing their capstone projects. 

“Every day, we’d learn something new and then be able to go out on our own to actually practice it,” said West senior Alex Holloway, whose group took a more non-traditional route for their project. 

Recognizing the importance of increased social distancing and the need to move students through the lunch line more efficiently than normal to limit exposure, the group engineered a solution to help organize the crowds of students buying their lunch each day. The addition of stanchions to help guide students toward different food stations and an altered schedule for releasing students reduced the average time students spent purchasing their lunch by 40 percent.

“Establishing relationships is very important when you’re trying to get anything done,” said Holloway, reflecting on the various players involved in pulling off the final product. In addition to their principal, his group collaborated with the district’s Child Nutrition leaders and West’s cafeteria staff.

Besides working alongside decision-makers, West senior Justin Stach appreciates the freedom that comes with the class, explaining that they come up with their own daily goals. He also acknowledged the leadership and teamwork skills that came into play. “The hardest part was making sure everyone had a say in the process,” Stach said. “As a team and as a class, we definitely grew that way.”

Another capstone group gained similar experience with their project, which aimed to install a mechanism to reinstate safe use of the school’s water fountains. With water fountains disabled throughout the building to minimize the spread of germs, students like senior Nate Nowicki observed that he and others weren’t drinking as much water as they should throughout the day. 

Following the Six Sigma problem-solving process, the group landed on an attachment to the traditional water fountain that allows students to refill their water bottles. After installing one device at main campus, the group is in the process of replicating it at West’s freshman campus too.  

“It was cool because everyday it was something new, something different to do - and there wasn’t a set way to do it either,” said Nowicki, noting that even relocating their device to the freshman campus required modifications and improvements.

“It all comes down to problem-solving, which is needed in all types of engineering,” said senior Dylan Corrigan, whose group included four students, each with plans to pursue a different engineering pathway. 

The best part of it all, the group agreed, was the opportunity to affect real change. “It was cool to see how willing the administration was to work with us,” Nowicki said. 

“And you didn’t have to take it apart after you’re done. It’s there to stay and there’s a legacy to it,” added senior Zachary Burns.