Surveying his new facility at the recently renovated 5th Street Hub, Ron Rorrer, PhD, PE, looked like a kid in a candy store. The associate professor of mechanical engineering pointed to the many air hoses hung from the ceiling of the garage workspace, the 110 and 220 outlets, and let out a satisfied sigh. These are the things that make mechanical engineers happy.
“Thirteen air hose reels”, Rorrer said. “It’s a dream garage.”
Rorrer’s dream is the new home for his senior design students. The old facility, Tech 128, was housed in the Technology Building where the students, their projects and a 500-square-foot wind tunnel were all squeezed into 1,500 square feet.
Now, in what had previously been a deserted old print shop on 5th street, there’s 4,100 roomy square feet for working on the projects, plus an additional 1,650 square feet of shared computer lab and student meeting space. Rorrer can’t help but smile when he says, “This new space means there will be no boundaries for our student projects.”
After a renovation that moved at hyper-speed and was completed in just two months, Rorrer’s senior design students started moving their projects from Tech 128 into the 5th Street Hub in February. The first step was wheeling their heavy steel workstations across campus.
Senior Ryan Reece was among 20 students who pitched in on a cold Saturday to make the move into the 5th Street Hub and describes the scene as ridiculous. “All of a sudden we started talking smack and the next thing you know, we’re in a race,” he laughed. “We’re flying down the street with these crazy heavy tables vibrating. With all that, it went surprisingly well.”
And, he is happy to report that outside of a small metal splinter in his finger, there were no injuries!
Reece’s team project is a motorized therapeutic tricycle for people with special needs. Four other teams are building race cars. Each team is provided with its own workspace and the students have been amazed at how spacious the areas are. “A company could move in here,” Reece observed, “and would have everything it needed.”
Chad Glidden is Reece’s teammate, and the creative force behind the project they’ve named “TheraGO.” Glidden is developing the tricycle to meet the needs of his son Jared. “He can walk,” Glidden explained, “but he doesn’t have the muscle memory to ride a tricycle. TheraGO is designed to help with that.”
Ryan Anderson is another student hard at work in The Hub. His team’s project is a super-mileage, green technology vehicle. Interviewed live on 9News Mornings recently, Anderson told anchor Gregg Moss that the team’s goal is to be the most fuel efficient vehicle at the upcoming Shell Eco-marathon in Houston. They will compete in the hydrogen fuel cell category and will be out to beat the old record of 2,188 miles per gallon!
A total of six projects are in the works, and the “finish line” for all of them is racing toward the teams faster and faster. And, that means more and more time spent at the 5th Street Hub. The students have access to the facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they’re taking advantage of it. One team put in 100 hours in just the first month. Another is coming off a weekend marathon of three 12-hour days.
Glidden has a hard time believing that even half of the projects could have fit into the old space at Tech 128. “Most of us would have had to work in our own garages. Now, we’ve got this unreal space and it brings us all together. And, that’s the heart of what senior design is all about: the groups working side-by-side, learning from each other and problem-solving together.”
Reece describes the former workspace as being like that old catch-all drawer everyone has at home — lots in it, but nothing that serves a single purpose well. The new location at the 5th Street Hub changes that, catering exclusively to senior design projects and motorsports.
“This opens the floodgates of opportunity,” Reece said. “If only we’d have it last semester!”