St. Thomas Engineer Magazine



THE UNIVERSITYOF ST. THOMAS An aerial photo of the St. Paul campus with the Minneapolis skyline in the distance. Photo by Mike Ekern ‘02


took place. The impacts of inequality and, worse, indifference which have plagued so much of what is possible for our world have cast a great shadow on this time. I am confident that with their understanding of the human condition in combination with their St. Thomas engineering education, that our graduates will be those who are humble enough, wise enough and bold enough to truly make a difference. Today one in six students who study at St. Thomas are in the School of Engineering. As you read this issue, you will learn about another great aspect of engineering at St. Thomas: the abundant opportunities for students to do research with faculty. Nearly half of our undergraduate students complete a research project with faculty outside of the classroom. From biomedical applications to advanced composite materials, students work jointly with faculty on new discoveries in the lab, adding an invaluable dimension to their educational experience. We are grateful for the vitality of the Minneapolis- St. Paul metro area’s manufacturing, technical and business community that supports our work. The connection we have with industry forms an integral part of the DNA of our school. This year we completed nearly 40 projects with industry partners in our Engineering Senior Design Clinic. We are blessed to be in this community that so energetically supports the growth of our unique brand of engineering.

As we send this edition of the St. Thomas Engineer magazine to print, our worlds have been radically disrupted by the new challenge of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the brutal reminder of the old hurt and years of anguish caused by racial injustices that have been exposed by the killings of George Floyd and others in recent weeks. We have to acknowledge with humility the hard work that lies ahead of us on both fronts. In this context, it is a difficult moment to foster celebrations of any kind, but in these pages, we have important information to share, mere seeds of a brighter future that lies ahead through our steadfast work. We are building something truly special here in Minnesota. As one of the youngest engineering programs in the nation, we are grateful that we were not born wedded to 100+ year-old thinking of what engineering education must be. When we started our undergraduate programs in 1998, it was a greenfield operation and a clean canvas on which to design a 21st century program and build it with 21st century thinking. The National Academy’s “Engineer of 2020” report released in 2004 only reinforced the educational philosophy of our engineering faculty at St Thomas. We knew that excellence in design and discovery would require reliance on both the mindset developed in liberal arts education as well as rigorous technical and hands-on skills. We envisioned that the most impactful engineers in this 21st century world would be those with resilience and adaptability. If anything, the year 2020 has reminded us of how vital those traits have become. We are hopeful that the year 2020 will be a great inflection point in the arc of humanity. Our location in St. Paul, Minnesota, is just across the river from Minneapolis, where the death of George Floyd

Cheers, Don

Dr. Don Weinkauf Dean, School of Engineering

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Summer 2020

Published by the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering 2115 Summit Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105 (651) 962-5750


The University of St. Thomas is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Dean’s Message

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The Engineer of 2020 World-class Center for Microgrid Research Across the Country in a Self-driving Car

Engineering Communications Director Susan Zarambo Editor Patricia Petersen Designer Carol Garner Photographers Mark Brown Liam James Doyle Contributors Doug Dunston Amy Carlson Gustafson Teresa Hannasch Chih Lai Tiffany Ling Jordan Osterman




International Collaboration on AI Research Senior Design Clinic Students Generate Industry Solutions To Understand Global Warming, Look to the Oceans



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KEEN: Students Learn ‘Fearless Participation’ Students Produce PPE for Local Hospitals Behind the Automated Attendant


Brant Skogrand Angie Vognild Don Weinkauf



Front cover: School of Engineering Dean Don Weinkauf considers this on Page 6. Photo by Mark Brown

The University of St. Thomas is an equal opportunity educator and employer. St. Thomas does not unlawfully discriminate, in any of its programs or activities, on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, family status, disability, age, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, membership or activity in a local commission, genetic information or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.

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Dr. AnnMarie Thomas receives the 2020 LEGO Prize PROFESSOR ANNMARIE THOMAS , a faculty member in both the School of Engineering and Opus College of Business, was awarded the 2020 LEGO Prize by the LEGO Foundation at the annual LEGO Idea Conference in Billund, Denmark. Thomas was recognized for her work as the director of the University of St. Thomas Playful Learning Lab, in which students have collaborated on projects with the rock band OK Go, PBS’ “SciGirls” TV series and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and others. Since 1985, the LEGO Prize has been awarded to individuals or organizations that have made an outstanding contribution to the lives of children and are champions of Learning through Play. The prize is accompanied by a cash award of $100,000 which will support the further development of Thomas’ work .

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They’re here! The Engineers of 2020 have just switched their tassels (virtually) and now are making their first steps into a world we, as engineering educators, have been trying to anticipate and prepare them for since the turn of the century. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) “The Engineer of 2020” and “Educating the Engineer of 2020” reports published in the early 2000s were designed to help us comprehend this moment in time. In some respects, we adapted to the changes we envisioned from our year-2000 lens, but in many other ways, we simply have not untangled ourselves fromwhat we

engineering education today is much as it was then. This past month, like most engineering educators, I sat in front of my computer watching the virtual celebrations of Class of 2020 engineers. I was confident that every one of our graduates has the analytical skills, design skills, and even practical hands-on skills that form the basis of a good engineer. But I truly wonder if we have honored our craft and done our best work in preparing them for the 2020 world that they are stepping into? Now that the Engineer of 2020 has just graduated, it is an appropriate time for an honest reflection on our work as engineering educators.


experienced as engineering students ourselves, and thus

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prophetically, they even outlined a scenario where a virus pandemic paralyzes much of the world economy. With all of these new technological tools and perspectives at our fingertips, the real question is howmuch has engineering education really changed in the last 20 years? Or for that matter, 40 years? Outside of our labs with many examples of modern tools, for all intents and purposes, we still rely on the traditional curriculum: four semesters of calculus/diff eq, two semesters of physics, a computer science course, nominal treatment of statistics, traditional engineering discipline-specific courses and, for the most part, a survey-level series of courses in social science and humanities. Topped off, of course, by the capstone experience which attempts to cover everything that we didn’t cover in the previous three years of the curriculum. I am sure that every one of us reading this could showcase this or that in our respective curricula, but if we are truly honest with ourselves, across the nation, not much has really changed since the turn of the century.


‘A 5-POUND BAGWITH 10 POUNDS OF STUFF WE COULD TEACH’ PROBLEM As “The Engineer of 2020” report stated, “engineering education must avoid the cliché of teaching more and more about less and less, until it teaches everything about nothing.” For 40 years, while our technological world has been entirely transformed, our profession has struggled with the “5-pound bag and 10 pounds of stuff we could teach” problem. With the increasing democra- tization of technology, the approach of having a thin skills- based appreciation of everything technical in our curricula may be undermining the true value of an engineering degree. The differentiating value of an engineering education is being diminished by the accessibility of our basic tools to those from any background. The issue with the 5-pound bag problem is compounded by the need to develop traits that have traditionally not been a part of the engineering educational experience, but nonetheless are vital to advancing any great technological ideas for society.

The NAE group who crafted “The Engineer of 2020” report in 2002 highlighted the big themes of new technologies which would serve as new tools for today’s engineers, as well as outlined the emerging technological challenges that we would likely face. We have to put the report into the context, because at that time there were no smartphones (2007); there was no Facebook (2004); the value of data was just being realized with the launch of Amazon Web Services (2002); the prospect of all-electric vehicle production (the EV1) had just been called off by General Motors (1999); and the U.S. was boldly turning toward the “hydrogen economy” (G.W. Bush SOTU address, 2003). The team correctly envisioned vastly improved technological tools in the areas of bio- technology, nanotechnology, materials science, photonics, logistics, communications, IT and an “information explosion” of data covering all disciplines. The team also correctly anticipated the critical importance of the “extinction-level” crisis of climate change. And, somewhat

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“The Engineer of 2020” report called for improvements in a broad range of skills and traits, such as creativity, leadership, business management, communications, empathy, moral reasoning, virtue ethics, dynamism, systems thinking and comfort with ambiguity. These topics are not generally associated with our engineering curricula or even the comfort level of our own engineering faculty. Developing the right balance of skills, knowledge and traits is the challenge for engineering education. There isn’t enough time for building skills and a knowledge base in everyone that only a few will actually use. We need to push back on the refrain at the departmental meeting, “Well, every engineer needs to know how to do X,” when the reality is that only about 10% of the engineers who graduate will ever be in a room where X is even happening. This “rite-of- passage” mentality will only mire us in what we have always done, which, in truth, hasn’t been bad, but is it great? PREPARING STUDENTS WITH THE MINDSET TO SUCCEED As engineering educators, the worst thing we could do for our students is to have them be surprised by what little they know as they walk through the door to their first job. The products, the markets, the science, the customers, the designs, the finance, the regulations, the supply chain, the equipment, the

timing, the documentation, the history, the communications, the manufacturability, the software, the laws, the cultures are so different for each company in each product sector, that we could not possibly “train” a student for any specific job. But

everyone’s fingertips, what have we actually removed from the backs of our students in working through obsolete tasks in the curriculum? As conveyed in “The Engineer of 2020” report, “The speed and

computing power of desktop machines …will enable design and simulation capabilities that will make the routine activities of contemporary engineers obsolete, thus freeing them for ever more creative tasks.” Isaac Asimov said something similar only 30 years earlier in 1970, “the Machine is only a tool after all, which can help humanity progress faster by taking some of the burdens of calculations and interpretations off its back.” With these powerful and increasingly accurate tools at our fingertips, what parts of the curriculum have we labeled as obsolete to allow more time for creative tasks?

we do need to prepare them with themindset to succeed in the vast majority of other possibilities. And inmost cases, it will not require them to knowX or Y, but it will require them to recognize when they need to understandX or Y, and quickly learn. With time as a constraint and experience as the opportunity, we have to ask ourselves if we have fully taken advantage of the limited time we have with our engineering students.

Given the advances in technology, immediate access to information and computational power at

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A technically overstuffed and abstract curriculum

know that major transformations to the curricula happen at the

to understand what you do not know and the power to learn something new. And that is why, as our graduates were virtually flipping their tassels last month that I was confident that the arc of humanity will make a slight bend toward a better place for all. I

widens the chasm between engineering education and the people and society that our students will serve. The perception of engineering as a non-people-based profession

scale of glacial speeds and Deborah numbers. Each

university is making strides and trying to share those experiences through our ASEE, KEEN and other networks. I can speak

has not really changed in the past decades despite our efforts to convince society otherwise. In 2000, 20% of the engineers graduating in the U.S. were women, and with decades of a persistent drumbeat of promoting STEM in our K-12 system, in 2019 only 22% were women. Similarly, the percentages of black and Hispanic engineering graduates lag significantly behind the national demographics. The predominately technical lens of engineering curricula across the nation continues to reinforce the notion that engineering is a profession considerably distanced from the people we serve. OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONES AND INTO THE WORLD For those who study the historical arc of engineering education, we

confidently about the small disruptions that we are pursuing at the University of St. Thomas. I ammost proud that we have pulled our engineering students out of their science andmath comfort zones by requiring extensive coursework experience in philosophy, theology, history, social science and the fine arts. These are realms of study where an understanding of people and a comfort with ambiguity reign. I am equally proud that they have had to develop empathy and intense listening skills through the process of learning to understand new cultures and communicate in a second language. While it is true that the technologies and markets our graduates will be walking into are virtually infinite, there are two things that will be the same in every domain: 1) Engineering is about serving people, and 2) Success comes from the humility

want to thank all of the engineering graduates of 2020 in advance for the work you are about to engage on behalf of all of us. I promise you, as an engineering educator, that in honor of this 2020 milestone we will continue to get better at our craft of preparing the next generation of engineers for the next generation of problems our world will face. Thank you.

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Solar panels for the Center for Microgrid Research stand atop McCarthy Gym on south campus in St. Paul.

I t’s easy to imagine that such a moment deserves a big, red lever between the words ON and OFF and the tension before the switch gets flipped. Instead, Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke reached out his hand on Nov. 1, standing in the basement of the St. Thomas Facilities and Design Center (FDC) on the St. Paul campus. Reaching down, his hand hovered over a computer mouse as his right index finger swung down, and just like that he officially turned on the brand-new Center for Microgrid Research. The system’s response kicked off a chorus of applause from everyone gathered, as the moment represented the culmination of a $2.1 million grant from the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Account, years of

faculty and student efforts and construction going back to the summer of 2016. “This facility is nearly unique in the U.S. It will help us attract students, research and industry partners. It’s wonderful to be at this stage,” said Dr. Mahmoud Kabalan, director of the Center for Microgrid Research. “We’re setting people and our society up for the future through our students. We’re producing people who will go out and be leaders in the field with very strong technical backgrounds.” “There are only a handful of facilities like this in the country,” said Dr. Greg Mowry, who used his decades of experience in the power sector and with microgrids to custom design the St. Thomas facility. “On the playing field of advanced research in the power sector, that puts us not equivalent, but ahead of nearly everybody.”



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COLLABORATINGWITH EXTERNAL PARTNERS Amicrogrid contains a certain number of sources that generate power and loads which receive power. It acts as a single, controllable electrical system that allows smooth renewable energy integration and can operate either connected to the wider power grid or as an independent “island” of power. Mowry designed the energy sources to be of similar capacity. There isn’t a single, dominant energy source, unlike most microgrids, which allows for flexibility with research and experimentation regarding what elements can be introduced and studied. “With our focus on working directly with industry partners, there are some unique attributes with what we’ve put together,”


role in our clean energy future. We’re proud of the partnership we have with St. Thomas and the School of Engineering and look forward to a bright future of working together.” POWER AND EMPOWER What flows through the microgrid is remarkable on two levels. On one hand is power, the all- important energy upon which our society depends. On the other hand is empower. From day one, St. Thomas students have been trusted and empowered to contribute to the microgrid throughout its entire construction, imbuing the facility itself with a spirit of learning. “When you figure new stuff out, it’s not always going to work. Keep going. Don’t be afraid of it,” Mowry said of the attitude he passes on to his students, dozens of whom have contributed to the microgrid. “The moment they crack open a door and see that glimmer of light, they see they’re capable. That’s the greatest thing any teacher can do for a student. …That self-awareness and potential are major changes in the way a person views themselves in life. That’s what these kinds of projects unleash.” The benefits are incredible for both undergraduates and graduate students, particularly those of the burgeoning Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, the growth of which has coincided with the microgrid’s development since it was first submitted as a grant in 2011.

A 48-kilowatt (48,000 watt) solar PV array, located on the roof of McCarthy Gymnasium and the FDC

One 50-kilowatt biofuel Genset generator

A connection to the grid through Xcel Energy

Dean Don Weinkauf said. “The dream has been for

A 125-kilowatt/396-kilowatt hours lead acid battery storage

companies to be able to come in, plug in their components and see how they interface in a microgrid environment. We can now do that.” For Xcel Energy, the key partner to this point, the results already speak for themselves. “The St. Thomas Center for Microgrid Research is a great example of two partners with a shared vision to reduce carbon emissions working together to benefit students, the university and the environment,” said Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy- Minnesota. “The technologies that students and companies are testing at this facility could someday play an important

The capability to emulate different electrical sources or loads using state-of-the-art electrical power research equipment

The capability to test third-party equipment up to 125 kilowatts

Controllable load devices up to 250 kilowatts

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“The microgrid and the master’s programwere premeditated to increase the reach and provide a venue of [research and experimentation] that has been realized today,” Mowry said. “All the electrical engineering faculty are involved with the grad programand have students doing research. …We’re providing the mechanisms and paths where students can excel rather easily up to the master’s level, which buys a big bang for students moving up and into the workforce.”

Kabalan said it’s easy to envision the capacity for 30 to 40 students working on the microgrid in the near future as partnerships grow and research opportunities arise. Weinkauf said he heard a straightforward assessment of this kind of experience for students from Fowke as they left the FDC following the flip- switch ceremony: “Ben said to [President] Julie [Sullivan], ‘Xcel would hire every single one of those students in a heartbeat. No one else is getting this kind of experience,’” Weinkauf recalled. COMING SOON TO A HOME NEAR YOU The microgrid represents a significant step forward in St. Thomas’ ability to contribute to the ongoing effort to combat climate change. “We are building what, hopefully, you will see in your home in five to 10 years,” Kabalan said. “We’re building technology that, just like a cell phone, will be very normal. …Energy production will either be 50% of the problem or 50% of the solution. We’re part of the solution.” The microgrid also represents a continuation of the school’s desire to educate “a different kind of engineer,” producing students with an understanding of their place in the world and a desire to use their skills to make positive impacts. “The more you’re out of the textbook and in the real space, the better of a problem-solver you’re going to be. That is part of the philosophy that’s captured in the [microgrid] system we’ve

Dr. Mahmoud Kabalan

built,” Weinkauf said. “What’s important for students to understand is that there are no silver bullets to these big problems. It’s the synthesis of a lot of ideas, a lot of technology, a lot of work, which is all carved away with small steps. … It’s going to be an aggregate of a lot of types of solutions in that space of energy independence and security.” “The end goal is to help lead in making microgrids more affordable to the average consumer and spreading this technology,” Pietsch said. “Being able to take the experience of engineering and applying it to a business degree, then combining those to help save the planet? I can do that here.” More than ever before, St. Thomas is poised to – as Mowry described it – “roll up our sleeves and get to that work,” emerging as a national leader going forward where the possibilities remain endless.

It hasn’t taken long for students to recognize the value the microgrid offers to their education. Sophomore electrical engineering student Rachel Pietsch joined the team as a first-year. Her father, an electrical engineer, told her many of the components and systems are the same at his company. “I’ve been in interviews with companies working with microgrids, and they’re so excited undergrads are getting the chance to work on them,” Pietsch said. “Seeing how learning these skills can help me in industry is huge, especially when microgrids are becoming a pretty big part of combatting climate change.”

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react to that, so we had to take over so we wouldn’t collide into the semi.” Other times, they observed that the infrastructure wouldn’t fit the needs of their other vision- based autonomous driving system, such as when there was dirt covering the pavement markings. Once they arrived in California, they presented their findings and participated in a panel on autonomous vehicle regulations. VSI Labs had sponsored a senior design team from St. Thomas in 2018. “The team built a driver- monitoring system for our car. They did a super great job,” Sargent said.

Sargent transferred to St. Thomas after working in retail and attending a community college. “The engineering program really attracted me because there are more opportunities to customize your study and work more closely with your adviser,” she said. While at St. Thomas, Sargent was the president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) student chapter and a member of the Society of Women Engineers. Today, she is on the external advisory board for the School of Engineering, which is made up of several engineers who work in industry.


Sara Sargent was testing an HD map-based lane-keeping system in which the driver navigates the car manually, but can flip a turn signal and the car will move to the next lane on its own. She and her team came across some interesting obstacles on the four-day drive. They were passing a semitruck on the interstate going 80 miles per hour, and the semi started to suck their car into it. “We were going at such a high speed that the force was much greater and the driver could feel it more,” Sargent said. “We hadn’t taught the system to

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Dr. Chih Lai, second from right, and his international student team, from the left, Avani Saklecha, Akhil Ambekar, Zinyue Alice Sui and Zezheng Andy Long. Not pictured: Stefan Kramer.

complex AOP network is a daunting task. If we can predict possible chain events, biochemists can focus their efforts on examining more likely pathways, making AOP development more effective. My research teamand I were invited by the National Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) inGermany to apply artificial intelligence techniques to predict possibleAOPs. The research teamplans to train deep neural networks (DNNs) to absorb knowledge from16million medical journal papers. Since AOPs can be easily tested and observed in fish embryos, our team also is training DNNs in examining thousands of zebrafish embryo images to predict organ morphology from different toxic exposures.

Our research team includes Dr. Dalma Martinović-Weigelt of the Biology Department and five international students in the Graduate Program in Software of the School of Engineering and UFZ in Germany: Xinyue Alice Sui and Zezheng Andy Long from China, Avani Saklecha and Akhil Ambekar from India and Stefan Kramer from Germany. I’m also serving as a visiting scientist at UFZ and my work is sponsored by the Deutsch Scholarship for Exchange Scientist Program in 2019. Some of the students frommy team recently graduated with a master’s degree in data science: Saklecha is a senior data scientist at Target Corp., Long is an AI quantitative model analyst at U.S. Bank and Sui is a data engineer at Bluestem Brands Inc.


Mapping human genomes helps scientists understand the connections between gene mutations and diseases. However, genetic disorders account for about just 10% of known human diseases. The rest are triggered by exposure to chemicals in our environment. Exposing humans to different combinations of chemicals in different amounts for different lengths in different stages of our lives may have different ripple impacts to our tissues, organs, and eventually, diseases. These chain events are referred to as Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs). Mapping out millions of possible pathways in this

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Student Profile

GATES SCHOLAR STUDIES CIVIL ENGINEERING Name: Kao Soua Yang ’20 Home country: Thailand. My family moved to Minnesota when I was 7. Best thing about civil engineering: It’s new. It’s exciting to be the first ones in the program. I also like building things. You work at MnDOT. What are your responsibilities? I started working there in the spring of my senior year in high school. I have worked in the design office, the traffic forecasting office and now I am back in the design office. Describe yourself in three words: Hard-working, patient and loyal Where to find you on a Sunday afternoon: At work; I also work at U.S. Bank. Something most people wouldn’t know about you: I’m funny. If you had the chance to have lunch with anyone, who would it be? Bill Gates, because I have a Gates scholarship. Why engineering? I was put into an engineering/STEM program in high school. I liked math and science, but I didn’t want to do either full time and found that engineering was a good middle. Why St. Thomas? I started at Macalester College but really wanted to do engineering, and I wanted to stay in the Twin Cities. I thought the University of Minnesota was too big.

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Senior Design


to five students undertake each project, with a mix of

these skills are necessary in order for the students to create plans for meeting the project deliverables in the available time and then effectively communicating the design ideas and final solution to their sponsor. The Senior Design Clinic industry partnerships provide invaluable networking opportunities for St. Thomas students. Creating connections with local professionals through projects frequently leads to patent disclosures, recommendations and job offers. In addition, many of the industry sponsors are St. Thomas alumni, attesting to the strength of the alumni network and support they provide engineering students. The School of Engineering is always searching for new industries and problems to be solved with our Senior Design Clinic. If you are interested in learning more about how your company can become involved, contact us at (651) 962-5750 or

electrical, mechanical, civil and computer engineering students appropriate for the project content. The interdisciplinary nature of the teams differs frommany other universities that have senior design project programs and is an exceptional opportunity for students to experience how multidisciplinary teams collaboratively solve problems in the real world. One of the most valuable lessons students learn is how to tackle problems that do not have obvious solutions. Unlike textbook questions, which often have a single correct approach and solution, real-world problems possess a high degree of ambiguity. Students must brainstorm potential solutions and apply engineering rigor and sound judgment to select a solution that will best fulfill the unique design parameters for their projects. Other critical job-related skills that students hone include project management and professional communication;


The Engineering Senior Design Clinic challenges students to create novel solutions to engineering problems posed by industry and community partners. This two-semester course is a critical component of the St. Thomas engineering curriculum as it requires student teams to engage hands-on with real-world design problems and to gain skills in professionalism, communication and project management. Projects are selected from a broad range of partners to match varying student interest, frommultinational corporations looking for fresh ideas to entrepreneurial ventures hoping to take a prototype to the next level. Teams of three


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Senior Design

Design Clinic Lead Dr. Tiffany Ling, in the archive of braille documents at the Minnesota State Services for the Blind.

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SENIOR DESIGN: Tactile Diagram Scanner Digitizes Textbooks for the Blind



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Senior Design

Completion of the scanner took three years, three teams and 13 students, with each teamworking on a portion of the project and handing it off to the next one. The project started in fall 2017 as an idea from Dennis Siemer, an engineering design clinic sponsor who volunteers with Minnesota State Services for the Blind. His foundation, the Dennis K. and Vivian D. Siemer Foundation, sponsored the scanner’s development. “When we do these multiphase projects where different teams take it and they’re done and another team has to take it from there, it really illustrates to the students how important the communication piece is, because they’re not going to be around for the next stage,” Senior Design Clinic Lead Dr. Tiffany Ling said.

saving digital versions of the original physical diagrams, they are protected from damage and are more easily shared with teachers and students across the country.” While converting the words of a textbook into braille is simple,

“One of the big issues they (Minnesota State Services for the Blind) had was they have 40,000 of these handmade documents and what they needed was a way to back those up, to preserve those,” said Henry Martinson ’19 in a KMSP-TV story.

it’s much more challenging to convert graphs or images into tactile diagrams. Up to this point, volunteers and employees at Minnesota State Services for the Blind had no way to prevent original tactile diagrams frombeing destroyed by fire or natural disaster. The School of Engineering’s scanner can scan documents in less than two minutes, preserving the original indefinitely. As there is no profit in converting textbooks to braille, businesses don’t offer the service. The state of Minnesota converts the textbooks for students on an as-needed basis. To convert one textbook costs the state of Minnesota $25,000. To create copies of existing tactile diagrams, Minnesota State Services for the Blind would use a thermoforming process in which a piece of plastic is heated over a tactile diagram to create a copy. However, a copy of a copy can’t be created.

Minnesota State Services for the Blind has been involved with the project since the beginning. “We’re in the 21st century, in the technology age and if we can save all of our files, all of our tactile diagrams as a 3-D electronic version, we’ve come a long way,” Allison O’Day, a braille

The project began in 2018 with then students Jacob

specialist, told KMSP-TV. Ling is looking into the opportunity to have some

Liveringhouse, Abbie Sis, Luke Melander, Bridget Carey and Emma Miller; and was continued in 2019 by Andrew Johnson, Jiaming He, Melissa Rose, Gabriel Rodriguez and Samuel LeVoir, before it was handed off to Henry Martinson, Charlie Lundquist and Meheret Tadesse this academic year.

students add one more function to the tactile diagram scanner – the ability to print the tactile diagrams using Minnesota State Services for the Blind’s embossing printers. Since the tactile diagram scanner combines existing technology for a unique application, there is no patent on the device. “I know that there are other organizations out there that would be interested in this technology,” Ling said. “It’s not a unique need – it could go further with other organizations interested in it.”


Students described the tactile diagram scanner’s purpose as “digitally preserving original tactile diagrams – tactile representations of visual learning components in textbooks such as graphs, pictures andmaps. By

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A new analysis shows the world’s oceans were the warmest – especially between the surface and a depth of 2,000 meters – in 2019 than any other time in recorded human history. The study, conducted by an international team of 14 scientists – including School of Engineering Professor John Abraham – from 11 institutes also concludes that the past 10 years have been the warmest on record for global ocean temperatures, with the past five years holding the highest record. “There’s no natural explanation for it,” Abraham said. “It’s been going on for decades at a pace where the only explanation is

human-caused warming. … This isn’t a political football game. This is real data from real temperature sensors spread out around the ocean.” Abraham worked to improve the accuracy of the temperature sensors. He and the other authors published their results in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences , with a call to action for humans to reverse climate change. The research has been published in media outlets around the world, including in The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN, Newsweek and Daily Mail. “It is critical to understand how fast things are changing,”

said Abraham, co-author and professor of mechanical engineering at St. Thomas. “The key to answering this question is in the oceans – that’s where the vast majority of heat ends up. If you want to understand global warming, you have to measure ocean warming. “Global warming is real, and it’s getting worse,” Abraham continued. “And this is just the tip of the iceberg for what is to come. Fortunately, we can do something about it: We can use energy more wisely, and we can diversify our energy sources. We have the power to reduce this problem.”

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Alumni Profile


Name: Phil Brick ‘10

Hometown: Cottage Grove, Minnesota Currently live in: Las Vegas Majors: Electrical engineering and physics Employer: U.S. Air Force Since graduation:

I started in engineering acquisitions and then worked as a pilot. I have lived in Utah, Oklahoma, Northern California, New Mexico and now I am stationed at Offutt AFB in Nebraska flying the RC-135. Why Engineering (and Physics): I really enjoyed the subject matter. Why St. Thomas: It was highly recommended, and I have an uncle who is an alumnus. Favorite class: Optics – Professor Adam Green was amazing, and it was an extremely challenging and fun class. How did you become interested in ROTC: I’ve always had a passion for the military. Advice to your undergraduate self: Enjoy your time in college. Where you can be found on a Sunday afternoon: Hiking, helicopter lessons Next big thing: Get my helicopter license

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After months of collaboration between St. Thomas’ Playful Learning Lab and St. Paul Metro Deaf School, they were featured on the PBS television program, “SciGirls.” The episode included the partnership of St. Thomas students from Code and Chords – the Playful Learning Lab project that creates dynamic visuals out of music – and three students from Metro Deaf School. The episode showed the girls learning to code and storyboard visual presentations for a song, and finished with a live performance

at the Science Museum of Minnesota by St. Thomas’ Cadenza Singers, with the girls’ visual presentation on a massive screen behind them. “My heart is bursting with pride and joy about this episode!” said Playful Learning Lab Director AnnMarie Thomas, a professor in the School of Engineering and Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. The partnership started in 2018 after PBS reconnected with Thomas, who was a mentor on the “SciGirls” pilot episode in 2009.

Emily Meuer ’18 participates in a Twin Cities Public Television filming of a “SciGirls” episode on campus last summer.


Senior mechanical engineering major and St. Thomas swim and dive team member Lucas Manke got out of the pool on Nov. 22 to a full phone. Many of his friends and family knew what he didn’t: Manke had just been named the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps top cadet in the nation.

Manke is the second St. Thomas student in the past year to receive the honor among thousands of cadets after Air Force ROTC cadet Savannah Johnson was named the Air Force’s top cadet in the nation (see back cover) last spring. Manke has excelled as a full-time student-athlete at St. Thomas and is a member of the University of Minnesota’s Gopher Battalion for his ROTC unit. After graduating this spring, he will commission as a second lieutenant in aviation. “The rigorous academics of the School of Engineering, along with the personal attention from the world-class professors, pushed me to always strive for the best,” Manke said. “The faculty and staff here really care about the success of their students. I have felt that support since day one and it has continuously motivated me to put my best foot forward.”

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NEW CERTIFICATE PROGRAMS OFFERED IN IOT AND ENTERPRISE COMPUTING Graduate Programs in Software has created two new graduate certificate programs in Internet of Things and in enterprise (mainframe) computing. They were developed in collaboration with employers and industry experts and are designed for working professionals. To find out more visit .

Gary Floss, who has been teaching graduate engineering for 21 years, received a 2020 Baldrige Foundation Leadership Award for his decades of contributions to the Baldrige Excellence Award.

Al Faber, president and CEO of the foundation, praised the efforts of the award recipients: “Through their efforts to grow the Baldrige community, they help thousands of organizations across the country to improve their performance. Baldrige makes health care safer and more accessible, education more effective, businesses more efficient and customer-focused, cyber systems more secure, governments more streamlined and nonprofits more responsive.”

NEED ENGINEERING INTERNS OR GRADUATES TO HIRE? If you are looking for full-time employees or interns for engineering positions, attend our Meet the Engineers Career Fair. Every fall, St. Thomas engineering students post their resumes online in advance for employers to preview and then meet and interview them at the career fair. For more information, visit .


Members of the National Society of Black Engineers student organization, formed this year at St. Thomas, review each other’s resumes during their meeting on campus.

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Mechanical engineering student Lucas Manke ’20, second from left, joined other students named University Innovation Fellows by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. This global program trains student leaders to create new opportunities for their peers to engage with innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking and creativity.

By  DOUG DUNSTON, KEEN PROGRAM COORDINATOR KEEN: Students Learn ‘Fearless Participation’

What distinguishes people who are talking at each other from people who are engaged in conversation? Two activities that are indispensable if an exchange of words is to be elevated to a valuable conversation are listening, and the sharing of tentative thoughts and questions that invite further exploration. It is often through conversation that innovative ideas, solutions and movements emerge. But how does one learn how to listen? Or to share the untested, still- forming thoughts that can open the way to mutual learning? In a pilot “boot camp” aimed at sophomore engineering students, the School of Engineering, with support from KEEN (the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network), set out to see what engineering students could gain from an intensive, experiential course on “fearless participation,” the potent combination of responsive openness to input from others

and willingness to share incipient and early-stage ideas and questions. Three hours a day for eight days, 18 St. Thomas students immersed themselves in guided participatory exercises in improvisation, storytelling and empathy. Facilitated discussions scaffolded the exercises, providing the students space and time for the kind of reflection that could help transform the experiential exercises into useful insights. Over the course of the eight days, the students learned to detect when they were scripting replies in their head instead of hearing what was being said, and they practiced returning to intentional listening. They experimented with contributing ideas that were still in the formative stages as opposed to only sharing thoughts they judged polished or “safe.” They tried “listening while talking” –

attending to an audience while presenting so they could see where communication was faltering and could make adjustments on the fly. Can “fearless participation” be learned? When asked which of the listening and contributing skills they thought an individual could develop or improve, one student remarked, “I think that all of them can improve with practice. They can be practiced literally anywhere, like in a group project, when talking to friends and family, and even passing by someone.” As the boot camp graduates continue through their undergraduate programs and beyond, we look forward to seeing how they impact the quality of participation in their teams and communities. We look forward to more and better conversations.

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Student Profile


Name: Jeremy Ziemer ‘21

Hometown: Lakeville, Minnesota Major:

Computer engineering and I am considering a minor in either computer science or electrical engineering …or both. What are you researching:

Bringing the Internet of Things to a small immigrant farm near the Twin Cities. I am designing the implementation of low-cost sensor platforms and automated control systems to add instrumentation and robust control to new high-tunnels erected on the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) farm. This will help them grow their crops more effectively and efficiently. Describe yourself in three words: Calm, competitive, innovative. Where to find you on a Sunday afternoon: Hanging with my friends, and then I usually go to Vespers. Something most people wouldn’t know: I am an instructor at the Dakota Curling Club. If you had the chance to have lunch with any three people you wish, who would you invite? Mark Cuban for his business expertise; George Washington to hear his thoughts on his decisions; and Steph Curry as I am a basketball fan and his focus on God

is in the right spot. Why St. Thomas:

I picked St. Thomas for the small class sizes, being near a big city, I liked the tour, and the Engineering Department had a lot of research opportunities. Why engineering: I love to work with my hands, and I love to code. Doing a lot of engineering projects with my dad while I was in high school helped me to see my love for hardware and software, and engineering just felt right. Favorite St. Thomas class so far: Digital Design – it has lots of topics, and I learned a lot.

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Students Produce PPE

Collin Goldbach works with a 3D printer

In April, more than a dozen St. Thomas engineering, education and chemistry students used 3D printers to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) to support the Twin Cities medical community during COVID-19. “If you have an opportunity to help, you have a duty to,” said senior mechanical engineering major Collin Goldbach, who started the project. He gathered interested peers via Snapchat and they began creating 3D face shields for local hospitals. The students used a face shield design from St. Cloud State University to streamline the input process for St. Thomas 3D printers. They also created reusable respirator parts.

Minnetronix Medical Inc. heard about the St. Thomas project and offered the use of one of their machines to mold the shields rather than print them, to speed up production. “From the beginning, we’ve had the high-quality manufacturing equipment needed to produce PPE, but we couldn’t put those resources into use until we identified the problem that troubled them the most,” said sophomore Erin Westman. “In class, my engineering professors frequently stress the importance of developing our interpersonal communication and problem-solving skills. Now I understand why.”



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Faculty Profile


If you have ever called a bank, insurance company or an airline, you know this scenario well. A digital operator will ask you to press numbers or say your preferences. Annoying or not, there is a lot of science behind that interaction. Graduate Programs in Software Assistant

relates to signal processing and programming languages. Kazemzadeh got an early start in this field, designing an acoustic model for immersive, speech-interactive virtual reality (VR) world language training which helped to teach both aid workers and soldiers about languages in Iraq, Indonesia and Afghanistan during the Gulf War. He designed a VR video game in which players talk to communicate with video characters to bring aid to villagers after a natural disaster or to set up a base. The speech recognition decoder evaluates the answer and the player advances based on their correct verbal answers. Quite recently, speech recognition has become more practical due to deep learning, a hot topic in machine learning. Deep learning uses neural networks, which boils down to people doing less by hand, because the computer learns how to do it. As speech recognition continues to improve based on deep learning, so do the fields of computer vision and image recognition, allowing for some cross pollination of knowledge. Researchers can use the same technology to further advances in both fields, which has helped accelerate the speech recognition field dramatically in the last 5-10 years.

Professor Abe Kazemzadeh, PhD, is an expert

at language, with degrees in linguistics,

computational linguistics and computer science, and he has

industry experience. He has worked on notable projects such as an automated pronunciation modeling for child literacy assessment, a VXML telephone survey in English and Spanish for autism outreach, and several components for processing the Dow Jones newswire, including named-entity recognition, full- text search and commodities event extraction. His passion for linguistics was fueled by a high school class trip to Costa Rica where he noticed that dialects caused some misunderstandings. He pursued a degree in linguistics at University of Southern California and an electrical engineering professor made the connection for him on how linguistics

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