Engineering Showcase Spotlights Students’ Resilience, Entrepreneurial Spirit

Each year in May, seniors from USD’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering gather for an afternoon to show off their capstone projects — projects that have been dreamt up, tinkered with, argued over, deconstructed, built again, and refined over the course of the year. And for those in attendance at the annual Engineering and Computing Showcase, it’s an opportunity to pause and appreciate what inquisitive, determined minds can accomplish.

This year’s event on May 7 started with a rousing, virtual welcome from Dean Chell Roberts, who then turned it over to special guest San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria to deliver remarks. Gloria, who graduated from the University of San Diego in 2000, addressed the 170 participating students in the virtual room.

“This has been a heck of a year. But you all have been so persistent, so resilient, in moving forward,” Gloria said. “And that’s… why I wanted to be here. I think in a year where we can’t celebrate as we normally do, we have to find every way to support one another, to mark these milestones, and to really count them for what they are.”

Participants then enjoyed virtual presentations and interactions with student groups about their projects, which spanned from industry-sponsored, to entrepreneurial, to social justice and community-focused projects. The showcase displayed close to 40 projects across all degree programs.

Getting industry experience and guidance

Students who worked with industry partners were tasked with projects that directly impacted real-world companies. For example, a team working with Glaukos, a medical device company in San Clemente, developed a new automated system for testing its products that help treat chronic eye diseases.

“Our project was incredibly complex, and because of that we all had to be extremely flexible in our roles,” said Samuel Ferguson ’21. “I am extremely happy to say that we have created a prototype, and a prototype that’s actually being used right now.”

Testing their entrepreneurial drive

Other teams dreamt up and built their own practical solutions to real world challenges, creating things like a self-contained solar panel system for people with “on the go” lifestyles, and roofing tiles made from upcycled wind turbines. One team called How Bout Now (abbreviated HBN) developed a “culturally conversational” chatbot to make mental health services instantly accessible to anyone with a smartphone, focusing especially on underserved communities.

“My main drive into this project was really… that the project’s vision was well-aligned with my values,” said Jacqueline Puga ’22. “I felt that through this project, my mission to be a Changemaker at USD would be fulfilled.”

Inspiring the next generation

Some teams received project ideas by working with community members. For example, one project was designed to be used directly by teachers in City Heights to engage and excite middle schoolers by building a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

“This is for the students, and this for them to learn and grow from,” said Vanessa Hernandez Jimenez  ’21. “So every time [our team] goes back to that… I think it makes us more happy and committed to this project.”

Considering all of these capstone projects were largely developed from kitchens, garages and dining room tables, rather than machine shops or high tech labs, it is not hard to be amazed at what was accomplished.

“[The students] got a lot further along than I would have thought possible… I am shocked at how much progress they made,” said Gordon Hoople, PhD, assistant professor of integrated engineering. At a time when engineers in all industries are facing similar challenges, Hoople believes students from the class of 2021 learned in a special way to navigate constraints, and grow in planning, collaboration and delegation skills.

Mayor Gloria summed up the event’s significance by pointing out the essential skills these engineers will bring to building the future: “To the students that are here, I applaud you, I’m proud of you…. You are going to be the future of this city, and I’m just grateful for that role that you’re going to play.”

— Daniel Telles

Videos by Allyson Meyer ’16.