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Today’s engineering student experience

UW photographers share some of their favorite examples of hands-on engineering education.

The nature of engineering education has changed dramatically. A generation ago, undergraduates attended lectures then studied on their own. Today’s education focuses on project-based learning — hands-on research, design challenges, crossdisciplinary teamwork — activities that require different kinds of spaces. The pandemic pushed us to chart new territory as we moved to remote instruction. Our faculty, staff and students rose to the challenge, as outstanding engineers do, and adapted, iterated and innovated. Many of those innovations in education delivery will transform engineering education long beyond the pandemic; however, the fundamental need for hands-on experiences remains.

In 2019 the Washington State Legislature invested in the design of a new engineering facility — a critical step in our public/private campaign to build an interdisciplinary teaching and research building. There’s much more work ahead to construct this building: As we strive to meet increasing student demand for an engineering education — and industry demand for qualified engineers — we hope to have your support.

While we certainly need to grow, we are grateful for the experiential opportunities already available to our undergraduates, many of which would not exist were it not for our donors and partners. Since 2016, campus photographers Mark Stone and Dennis Wise have been documenting the engineering student experience. Here, Stone and Wise have selected some of their favorite photos. From research labs and study abroad programs to capstone projects and makerspaces, these images illustrate how our students are preparing to become tomorrow’s engineering leaders. 

Engineering education provides not just technical skill development but a framework for problem-solving through hands-on, collaborative learning opportunities. While some of these opportunities are on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions, we look forward to resuming them in-person as soon as we are able. In the meantime, we will continue to dream big and plan for even more creative, engaging, experiential opportunities. We hope you will join us.

Photos by Mark Stone and Dennis Wise / University of Washington

Research Labs

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Student in research lab

Bioengineering (BioE) undergrads construct point-of-care tests to detect HIV infection and drug resistance. BioE Ph.D. candidate Nuttada Panpradist developed the diagnostic device for her doctoral research. “Clinics in developing countries don’t always have access to labs and equipment like we have in the U.S., and they’re often trying to serve more people than they can reasonably accommodate,” Panpradist said in 2017. “If our team can introduce a low-cost, easy-to-use device to provide immediate diagnosis and resistance detection, then we can start to make a real difference in global communities.”

“What I remember most from this shoot was the sense of community. Nuttada had created a welcoming, collaborative environment — the kind that allows students to thrive,” Stone recalls. “Also, the team prepared for the shoot so thoughtfully! Everything was tidy, everyone wore UW gear, and the devices, samples, gloves and safety glasses were purple and gold to show the students’ Husky spirit.” 

Capstones

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ElectroSolar Oxygen, a team of Chemical Engineering (ChemE) undergrads, developed a way to generate medical oxygen for use in remote and underserved areas using renewable energy sources. The team came together through ChemE’s Special Design capstone program, where students tackle real-world problems through chemical product design and tech-based entrepreneurship. “The team was working through a mechanical issue and rebuilding the pump during this photo shoot,” Wise remembers. “Everyone showed up with a ‘we-can-do-it-so-let’s-get-it-done’ attitude, which was pretty inspiring.” 

In 2019, ElectroSolar Oxygen took home awards from the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s Environmental Innovation Challenge and Dempsey Startup Competition. They also received the Ray & Priscilla Bowen Award for Process Design, which ChemE presents annually to an outstanding capstone design team.

Clubs & Teams

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Engineering clubs, such as Human Powered Submarine, help students develop teamwork and leadership skills while working on hands-on engineering projects. In 2017, the club partnered with the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding to design “Knotty Dawg,” a sub that honored traditional wooden boatbuilding. That summer, the team won first place in the fastest two-person competition at the International Submarine Races with a speed of 3.27 knots. 

These subs aren’t watertight so pilots and dive team members must be scuba-certified. For this shoot, Wise and Stone suited up and joined them in the pool. “We had an underwater camera housing that worked great, but unfortunately the radio transmitter for our flash quit working,” says Wise. “But there was an observation window into the pool so we were able to capture these images.” 

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Dubs up! Dive team members Joe Zacharin and Timmy Lee and sub pilot Riley Harris.

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Makerspaces

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Makerspaces such as The MILL, photographed here in 2019, give students a place to collaborate, innovate and create. Students have access to cutting-edge professional equipment and training, workshop space, an educational wet lab and more. A collaboration between the College of Engineering and UW Housing & Food Services, The MILL — which opened in 2018 — is the second residence hall-based makerspace on campus. The other, Area 01’s Dabble Lab, opened in 2015. Residence hall-based makerspaces like these make it even more possible for students to practice engineering together in their living communities.

“You can let your imagination run wild in a campus makerspace like The MILL,” Stone says. “They contain many cool pieces of equipment like ceramic 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl printers and sewing machines, and they’re accessible to students for personal projects, class assignments and more.”

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Students working on laptops

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Study Abroad

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Though currently on hold, UW Engineering study abroad programs invite students to prepare for a global engineering career and enable them to gain an international and historical engineering perspective.

For example, as part of the Grand Challenges Impact Lab shown here in 2019, students spend one quarter in Bangalore, India, where they are equipped with hands-on problem solving experience to address real-world problems while increasing their cultural awareness.

Through Engineering Rome, students analyze and evaluate civil infrastructure spanning 3,000 years, from ancient Rome to the present day, learning about aqueducts, fountains, subway systems, the Colosseum and more. Photos taken in 2017.

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Engineering students in Rome

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Discovery Days

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“For me, Engineering Discovery Days is ultimate UW,” Stone says. “Not only does it showcase the great work students are doing across the College, it gives them an opportunity to share their passion with younger audiences. The wonderment on kids’ faces is priceless, especially when you see them make the connection that in a few years they could be the UW students developing these cool innovations.”

Here, an Allen School undergrad introduces a group of middle schoolers to Hobbes, a PR2 robot from the Sensor Systems Laboratory. For Discovery Days 2019, the team demonstrated the robot’s many abilities by showing how Hobbes could solve a Rubik’s Cube using AI, computer vision and novel sensing technology. Students were invited to challenge Hobbes to determine who could solve the puzzle faster. 

Collaborative Learning

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"I wanted to be an engineer to prove to myself that I could do it and to show other Black girls that they could, too,” said Human Centered Design & Engineering student Twesone Melaku in 2017, right, pictured here with classmates Tsuki Kaneko-Hall, left, and Jason Chen, center. Melaku, who graduated in 2018, is returning to the UW this fall after working in industry for two years to begin a graduate program in education policy and leadership. 

“This shoot was a lot of fun,” Wise remembers. “It was so hot that day, but the students still brought so much energy! Tsewone and the others explained their activities throughout the entire shoot. In the end, I was ready to join them in making affinity diagrams and storyboards.”

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HCDE student Tsewone Melaku

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Prototype Shops

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Engineering prototype shops — such as Aeronautics & Astronautics’ Charlie Bossart Machine Shop, shown here in 2017 — offer students a wide array of fabrication and testing equipment and machining tools. These resources help students learn by doing, inviting them to put into practice concepts from the classroom. 

“Students can create from scratch formula-style racecars, rovers for simulated Mars missions, hybrid rockets, and more through collaboration, inventiveness and the machine shops,” Stone says.

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Picture of Fethya

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Inclusive Engineering

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Jayna and Bradley working together

In Mechanical Engineering (ME)’s Ability & Innovation Lab, directed by ME associate professor Kat Steele, students design assistive and orthotic devices to enrich the lives of individuals who depend on them. In 2016 the team partnered with six-year-old Jayna Doll, left, pictured here with then ME student Bradley Wachter, right. Jayna had gone through a hemispherectomy, a procedure where half of the brain is removed to alleviate seizures. After the surgery, she experienced impairment of her wrist and fingers, so Wachter and others designed a 3D-printed orthosis to stabilize her wrist and assist her in tasks like grasping markers and drumsticks and playing with toys. 

Caring for the Community

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In March 2020, as UW campuses went remote to align with Washington’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, many engineering researchers pivoted their work to address COVID-19. Some had been developing home test kits for the flu as part of the multi-institution Seattle Flu Study (SFS), which partnered with Public Health – Seattle & King County to develop the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (SCAN) to serve Seattle and King County’s coronavirus response.

Students volunteered to assemble COVID-19 test kits for distribution through SCAN in a temporary fabrication center that was set up in the UW’s Nanoengineering & Sciences Building. “The researchers worked around the clock and in shifts to get as many of these kits assembled as possible,” Wise says. “They ramped this up in no time at all.” The team produced nearly 8,000 SCAN kits in its first two weeks.

Why UW Engineering

Find out more about how an engineering education from the UW offers a wealth of opportunities and opens doors to an extraordinary future. 

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