SOE Engineer Magazine_Spring 2021




St. Thomas Engineer 2021 Page 1

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

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them through the very real, customer-driven experience of bringing products and services to the market (Page 6). Excellence in design and discovery requires reliance on the questioning mindset of a liberal arts education, teamwork, hands-on skills and a rigorous technical education that are fomented together here at St. Thomas. We are hopeful that the year 2021 will be great inflection point in the arc of humanity and our work at St. Thomas. Plans for a new building integrating engineering and the arts are in the works, with final designs emerging as I write. The facility will showcase engineering and the value of broad perspectives on impactful solutions to our grand challenges and our critical goals of inspiring a generation of underrepresented groups in the engineering profession. As always, 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. We are blessed to be in this community that so energetically supports the growth of our unique brand of engineering. Our St. Thomas Engineer magazine is just a snapshot of what is going on here. I encourage you to drop us a line, follow us on LinkedIn or just plan a visit. We would love to give you a sense of the energy of our students, our faculty and the business community that surround us.

Every March, I am blessed to write this column to capture the essence of what comes alive in the current edition of St. Thomas Engineer magazine: an annual reflection on what has transpired in the School of Engineering and our direction going forward. Last March, it was impossible to anticipate what would transpire on the world stage and, in particular, in our own Minneapolis-St. Paul community. This has been an unforgettable, forgettable 12 months in our lives as a nation and in the lives of our St. Thomas community. In many respects, the content of this issue is no different. These pages embody how much we have stayed ALIVE in the midst of all of this. If anything, this terrible March-to-March cycle of our lives has reminded me of the resilience of the human spirit. Students and faculty are finding ways to fight through this, and as exhausted as everyone has been, they have managed to find our greatness amid this despair. We mourn our losses (and there have been many, including two of our strongest community advocates – see Pages 24 and 25), but this community still has found the light. We have somehow managed to celebrate every small sliver of joy that we have been blessed with in these times. 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-plus-year-old thinking of what engineering education must be. That’s why, as emphasized in the recently announced St. Thomas 2025 strategic plan, we will co-create relevant programs with industry that inspire creative problem-solving among our students and enable collaboration across programs. At the heart of this effort is the evolution of a national model of how to engage students in the Senior Design Clinic. This interdisciplinary, industry-centric program demands much of our students and takes

Cheers, Don

Dr. Don Weinkauf Dean, School of Engineering


Spring 2021

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. Engineering Communications Director Susan Zarambo Director of Communications,


Dean’s Message


A Higher Bar for the Design Experience


Film Roll Jumbo Racking


Marketing, Insights and Communications Sheree Curry Editor Brant Skogrand Designer Carol Garner Photographers Mark Brown Liam James Doyle Contributors Michael Derus Emilie Dozer Doug Dunston Amy Carlson Gustafson Chih Lai Jordan Osterman

The Oceans Are Getting Hotter and That’s Not Cool Faculty Secure Major NIH and NSF Grants Interdisciplinary Research for Neurorehabilitation





Dr. Deb Besser Named 2020 Engineering Unleashed Fellow 20 Embracing ‘Open Space Technology’ 26 Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Jobs 27

Brian Plourde Angie Vognild Don Weinkauf Student Assistant Jamie Tjornehoj Front cover


Turn to Page 6 to learn what makes the Senior Design Clinic unique. Photo by Mike Ekern ‘02 ( From the left, Samuel Taufen, Angela Feyder, Diogo Placer de Moraes and Mujahid Asamarai. The Senior Design Clinic photos were taken pre-pandemic.)

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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Mechanical engineering major (with a peace engineering minor) Pascale Kunda ’21 was voted this year’s Tommie Award winner by students, faculty and staff. She was recognized as a senior who best represents the ideals of St. Thomas Aquinas through scholarship, leadership and campus involvement. Kunda is the first engineering major to receive the Tommie Award. In a nomination submitted by Dr. John Wentz, associate professor and mechanical engineering chair, he described Kunda as PASCALE KUNDA ’21 RECEIVES TOP STUDENT AWARD

a “model St. Thomas student.” “She exemplifies the vision and

commitments that we hold dear at St. Thomas: excellence in academics, leadership, and involvement, all while serving the common good,” Wentz wrote.

Kunda is also part of the engineering student alumni mentoring program. In 2019, she returned to her home country of Rwanda to repair hospital equipment through the Engineers for World Health program. Pascale Kunda

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While every engineering program delivers a capstone experience, the Senior Design Clinic at St. Thomas School of Engineering is building momentum around a unique national model that company sponsors are embracing.

In the clinic, students from all engineering majors enroll in the same two-semester course and are assigned to interdisciplinary teams to match skills with the expected project needs.With the assignment of all intellectual property to the sponsor, companies are not limited in bringing authentic, market-driven problems for the students to engage. The St. Thomas students lead their projects through a stage-gate design process requiring customer interviews, ideation, and design concept approvals fromworking engineers at each level. The projects culminate with students building, testing and validating a working prototype solution – not just written reports – for the sponsors. This all has led to nearly 150 different organizations collaborating

with the School of Engineering since the Senior Design Clinic’s inception in 2002. Partners over the years have ranged from start-ups and nonprofits to national brands, such as 3M, Target, Medtronic and Mayo Clinic. “We’ve had very positive experiences with the Senior Design Clinic program within Target’s Global Supply Chain and Logistics Engineering organization,” said Target’s Director of Supply Chain Engineering Ryan Boudewyns ’04, ’08 MS in systems engineering. “It’s a very mature program where it is apparent that the faculty and staff have taken intentional efforts to prepare seniors to interact with a corporation in a professional manner and navigate through the project lifecycle independently.”

Engineering students have completed more than 30 projects for 3M since 2007. “It is a win-win situation. The collaboration gives students real-life experience, and it is the right thing to do from 3M’s standpoint because we are really trying to develop the next generations of engineers who will come and do great work for us,” said Doug Jensen, an electrical engineer in 3M’s Personal Safety Division, who was a project sponsor of a low-pressure flow meter. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senior Design Clinic went fully virtual in 2020. “I and other 3Mers have been impressed with how the university has responded and how the students have adjusted to the new normal,” said 3M Senior Research Engineer Anna Hegdahl ’14.

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Engineering students Meheret Tadesse, Henry Martinson and Charles Lundquist pose with the “tactile diagram scanner” technology they developed, at the Minnesota State Services for the Blind.

food is grown for the nonprofit’s wellness center and grocery store. “It’s fun to see the diversity of projects every year,” Design Clinic Lead Dr. Tiffany Ling said. CONTINUOUS GROWTH When the Senior Design Clinic started in 2002, there were six projects and mechanical engineering was the only major represented. Electrical engineering was added in 2004. The number of projects has steadily increased as well, with close to 40 projects for the

“The team I am currently working with continues to find new and creative ways to innovate and meet project deadlines.” One team this academic year was sponsored by orthopedic surgeon

State Services for the Blind, a project that took three years, three teams and 13 students, with each team working on a portion of the project and handing it off to the next one. 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 and maps. By 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.” Another instance of nonprofit collaboration is work for north Minneapolis-based Pillsbury United Communities on a faster way of seeding the hydroponic farm where

Jay Davenport, of Davenport SAF-T Systems, to work on a

personal safety device designed to diminish the impact of falls. Teams also have worked with Pelvital, a medical technology company focused on women’s health that recently received Food and Drug Administration clearance for its treatment to help women with stress urinary incontinence. The work with nonprofits aligns with the St. Thomas commitment to the common good. One example was the development of the tactile diagram scanner for the Minnesota

2020-21 academic year. “The scale, rigor and the

accomplishments of the students has changed over the years,” said Don Weinkauf, dean of the School of Engineering. “We’re getting groups of students who are better

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and better at scoping projects, and groups of seniors who have accomplished more and more, which can communicate to sponsors that there could be more and more expected of our students. Outside sponsors have said that the quality of the results and the work, the technical prowess demonstrated by our students, the capabilities of our students have all been growing.” Numerous Senior Design Clinic projects have received patents, with students having the honor of their names listed on the patent. “Creating challenging projects transforms students into champions,” Weinkauf said. “They start off thinking, ‘This is a project for 3M, Medtronic or Mayo Clinic,’ and then in a few months, they truly champion the project and put their heart and passion into it. That’s when amazing things happen.” Another development over the years is the Global Summers program, which started in 2018. It’s an immersive experience for students, who spend seven to eight weeks in another country working with an organization. For the first Global Summers Senior Design Clinic project, five students spent seven weeks in Amman, Jordan, creating aspects of a dehydrator specifically for jameed, a dried yogurt that serves as the main ingredient of the popular Jordanian dish, mansaf. The project sponsor, the Jordanian Women’s Cooperative, sells jameed to partially fund their cooperative. It takes about a week for jameed to dry outside in the sun. “Our goal was to find a way to dry jameed faster, within maybe three days, so the women could output more and

Students Janelle Mueller, Darya Klimok, Cooper Gray and Joshua Niemeyer partnered on the Basic Utility Vehicle (BUV) project, which is based on the Institute for Affordable Transportation’s mission to “bring safe affordable transportation to every person on the planet.”

work year-round,” Kelly Mallon ’19, who worked on the project, told St. Thomas Newsroom in 2019. “That could potentially get them out of poverty and empower them.” Ensuing teams continued with the women’s cooperative. In 2020, a team worked on a plastic mulch anchoring system for the School for International Training in Jordan. That system is designed to optimize the use of water in agricultural processes. The Global Summers program expanded the previous year to Peru. The students collaborated with the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development to design, test and build a machine that provides Peruvian farmers the option to reuse their corn and quinoa stalks for fertilization, compost and animal feed.

“The Global Summers program adds a level of difficulty in terms of delivery and listening to the customer,” Weinkauf said. Even through the pandemic, the Global Summers program has continued remotely, with teams required to complete cultural training modules online. “[The cultural training modules] enriched their experience and really helped them understand those cultural differences and how their design choices might change based on that knowledge of the difference in culture,” Ling said. A BETTER TYPE OF ENGINEER “The experience I had working on a Senior Design Clinic project was extremely useful in preparing me for the real world,” said Lindsey Falzone ’17, now a systems engineer

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The ambiguity and complexity of engineering problem-solving stretches students as well; School of Engineering faculty and project sponsors alike appreciate the students’ growth over the two- semester course. “It has been exciting to see the transformation from students who knew nothing about robotics and can quickly be able to adapt that and put it into process,” said Travis Dahlstrom ’09 MBA, a previous project sponsor and senior director of global engineering at Pentair spinoff nVent. As two semesters can be a long time to work on one project, a new requirement of Senior Design Clinic students is a reflection paper to be done after the first semester. In the paper, students need to cover topics ranging from team collaboration to personal growth to how they tapped into learnings from non-engineering courses. “If we don’t force students to take the time to reflect, they don’t necessarily do that on their own, because they get caught up in when the details of their assignments are due, and don’t sit back and think about how all of the pieces connect together,” Ling said. With each year of graduates, the School of Engineering is preparing students to use what they have learned to improve the world.

Students Leo Flentje, Adam Zopf, John Wallace, Alfred Danquah and Michael Hart created a robotic seam welder by adding automation, controls and a user interface to a manual device.

at Collins Aerospace who also is working toward a master’s degree in systems engineering at St. Thomas. “The presentations, timeline, deliverables, etc., are very similar to what happens in industry.” Beyond engineering skills, Senior Design Clinic students learn how to successfully interact with clients, effectively communicate with each other and rely on each other over two semesters. “Students can’t get it done by themselves, especially when there are multiple disciplines,” Ling said. “If a student is an electrical engineer, for instance, they can’t possibly learn all the mechanical engineering that they need to do a full project. They have to do the team dynamic of figuring out how to work together.” Students also need to tap into what they have learned from their non-

engineering courses as part of their St. Thomas liberal arts education. “Engineering is about people. It’s about listening to people, moving people toward common goals, and delivering

products and services for people,” Weinkauf said.

“The need for a liberal arts education is the need to understand humanity and the human condition, which engineers ultimately will serve. Listening, empathic design and understanding the voice of customers and the needs of society manifest in a liberal arts education. If those are absolute requirements of being a great engineer, then you can see the value of a liberal arts education in concert with the technical rigor that you get with an engineering degree.”

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Senior Design


rack. Elimination of the need to build a custom rack for each roll would improve employee work efficiency. In addition, 3M would reduce waste and save money on packaging. During the design process, there was continuous back and forth contact and multiple designs were drafted. “I learned how to gather and incorporate feedback into a design while utilizing and pulling from engineering skills learned throughout my time studying at the university,” said Kristen Andrews ’20, one of the students on the team, who now works as a product development engineer at 3M. “I learned firsthand that the design process is not linear but rather a loop, and what matters is the communication and analysis of the feedback to stay on track and create something innovative.” The team built a full prototype of their design and successfully demonstrated it in a live situation. Being able to physically test a prototype in an industrial setting was the highlight for the students, especially during the chaos of COVID-19. The 3M team worked closely with the students, which provided

the opportunity for improved student learning and resulted in a better design for 3M’s needs. “The beauty of the Film Roll Jumbo Racking project was in the opportunity it afforded the students. They would need to create and invent, innovate, test theories and iterate, model/prototype, engage with customers, think operationally with an eye on cost, and lead,” said 3MApplication Engineering Manager Mike Sherman ’96. “Projects like this get students out of the rigorous academic environment and into the real world. The end result: the students get valuable technical and life experience. 3M gets a valuable design that we can utilize to increase our operational effectiveness. It’s a win-win.” The School of Engineering is always searching for new industry partners, 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


St. Thomas has been fortunate to partner with 3M engineers on multiple senior design projects every year. Students find themselves central to the design process for the company, engaging with numerous employees to receive feedback and improve their success and learning. During the summer and fall of 2020, 3M challenged a team of four mechanical engineering students to design a new solution for the transportation and storage of large rolls of plastic film. The original method involved using single-use materials and was very time-consuming due to the need for custom fabrication for each


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Senior Design

Senior Design Team: Walter Alvarado, Tristin Leonard, Kyle Dekruif and Kristen Andrews.

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Board Member Profile

Advice to yourself as an undergraduate: Don’t get too concerned about jobs; build your skills and the jobs will find you. Favorite class while at St. Thomas: Statistics. I liked probability and queuing theory. Statistics is very valuable in the business world; you rarely have perfect information, so it is very helpful to know how to do probability and odds. What advice do you have for someone who would like the role of a CIO/CTO? Build your toolbox. CIOs hold a large leadership role, so become a student of leadership. Also, learn as much as you can about change management and become a master of strategy. I also think you must have exposure to programming so you can understand how things work. Be a lifelong learner; I am constantly learning. You have had led several organizations as the chief information officer (CIO) or CTO, at Select Comfort (nowSleepNumber), SunOpta andMerrill.What do you like about this leadership role? I like the opportunity to grow businesses. I love change. I love the strategy around IT. Right now, IT is in the middle of change. Businesses need IT to make decisions. Opportunity is driven on changes in tech. I love the IT/systems part of the business. It is like a candy store for me. As a CIO/CTO, what do you see as the biggest change with digital transformation? Twenty years ago, it was all about business transformation and IT was there to facilitate and execute. Now with digital transformation, IT is brought in early and has a big voice in the strategy and still is there to facilitate and execute.


What is the best thing about Graduate Programs in Software (GPS)?

Watching Dr. Bhabani Misra use each person on the GPS Advisory Board to pull together disparate data points into something that evolves for the students in the programs. He is the one in the room who can see the larger picture. Bhabani is amazing at what he does, a leader who understands that technology moves fast, so he works fast. Bhabani has put together a data science program that is now seven years old. Look around, it truly is one of the best programs in the country, it is right up there. St. Thomas has good reason to be very proud of this program. Next big thing: The pandemic has opened an opportunity as people no longer need to be in a physical location together to get work done. Where to find you on a Sunday afternoon: Distance bike riding. I ride inside in the winter. When I have a gnarly problem, I find it clears my head and sometimes the answer just comes to me.

Name: Mike Thyken ’83 Current Roles:

Chief technology officer (CTO) at CaringBridge, an online social network for health journeys Graduate Programs in Software Strategic Advisory Board chair

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New Faculty Profile



I t’s a good thing Dr. Heather Orser likes engineering. She is surrounded by engineers since her father, husband, brothers and daughter all are engineers. Her inspiration to pursue electrical engineering came from her father, a professor of electrical engineering at Mankato State University (now Minnesota State University, Mankato). Orser joins St. Thomas as the newest member of the electrical engineering faculty. Prior to joining the faculty, she worked in industry. This experience was very rewarding for Orser, as she had the opportunity to develop products through testing, learning, adjusting and sending product to market. Some of her work to date has included design of integrated circuits for fiber optic transceivers operating at 10Gb at IBM; development of MRI conditionally safe neuromodulation systems used to treat pain, Parkinson’s disease, and other nerve conditions at Medtronic; and the development of a research tool to understand how to improve memory in those suffering from impairment due to traumatic brain injury.

Her first year of teaching began in the pandemic, which has presented its own challenges. The need for distance has made it a challenge to ensure students are engaged andmeeting the learning goals of the class. To do this, Orser has used different techniques to make concepts tangible. One way she has done this is by using music to highlight what filters do to the sound of music. She knows our world is full of engineered devices with embedded systems, but most people don’t take notice until something stops working. So, Orser also talks to her students about the complexity of designing pacemakers, and all the qualifications a device inside a body needs: a battery that can last 10 years, workingmechanical parts, security, the environment, how the surgeon should put in the implant, and twiddler’s syndrome (where some people want to rotate the implant once in place). These insights are also valuable in her work with the Senior Design Clinic as it helps provide context for students developing a prototype for industry.

One area that Orser is passionate about is improving the number of students, especially women, in engineering. Orser volunteers with a high school robotics team to help people see their talent for engineering. She believes that engineering can seem like magic with the amazing things that are done. Learning about things like robotics allows the student to master this and understand how and why

things do and don’t work. Orser’s research includes

neuromodulation, which involves modifying the behavior of neurons in the body. Currently, some of her research is working with the next- generation devices for the treatment of sleep apnea. This device provides stimulation to the hypoglossal nerve, which pushes the tongue forward to open up the airway when people sleep. The device is similar in size to a pacemaker and is implanted in the upper torso. The focus of her research is assessing the capability of the integrated circuit in the device to produce the desired stimulation and monitor the efficacy of therapy.

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The Oceans Are Getting Hotter and That’s Not

You know climate change is real, said University of St. Thomas School of Engineering Professor John Abraham, when you see the intensity at which wildfires raged in Australia, across parts of the Amazon region, and even in the

who was among 20 scientists from 13 institutes around the world to contribute to a new climate change study published Jan. 13 in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. The research has been published in media outlets around the world, including in Science Magazine, The Guardian and MSN. “Powerful storms are increasing in frequency around the globe. Record numbers of typhoons made landfall in Vietnam after blasting the Philippines, and Fiji was devastated by a Category 5 hurricane in 2020,” Abraham said. The integrating effect of the oceans makes the storms more powerful and disrupts rainfall patterns, which lead to floods, droughts and wildfires. And death. “Climate change is literally killing people and we are not doing enough to stop it,” said Abraham, who hopes that the research he and his colleagues are tracking about record-setting warming of the oceans will bring enhanced focus to this global issue that he stressed has “profound effects on the environment and society.”


School of Engineering Professor John Abraham

western United States during 2020. Extreme fires will become even more common in the future. And then there are the oceans. They are the ones to watch. They reached their hottest level ever last year, fanning the flames and fueling the storms. “Warmer oceans make storms more powerful, particularly hurricanes and typhoons,” said Abraham,

teaches a class pre-pandemic in the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts auditorium.

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ABRAHAM’S RESEARCH MAKES GLOBAL IMPACT Professor John Abraham’s ongoing research on climate monitoring is making a global impact. It was announced in January that a 2020 paper he co- authored about record-setting ocean warmth was among the most mentioned of over 3.4 million articles published in scholarly journals last year. The paper, published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, ranked at No. 23 on The Altmetric Top 100. Altmetric’s annual list places a score on the publications that have most captured the public’s attention based on the number of online mentions. In analyzing Altmetric data, a UK-based website called Carbon Brief – which covers the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy – recognized that Abraham’s paper was the second-highest scoring climate change related paper most talked about in the media in 2020. Climate change is clearly a hot topic. According to Abraham’s latest research, each of the last nine decades has been warmer than the prior decade. “We can expect studies like ours to become routine as global warming continues,” said Abraham.

Cool for the Environment Why are the oceans so important? Because “more than 90% of global warming heat ends up in the oceans,” said Abraham. “When we think about ‘global warming,’ we really mean ‘ocean warming.’ And warmer oceans supercharge the weather, creating more powerful storms and continued sea level rise.”

Ocean heat is the best single indicator of whether the planet is warming or not, according to the study. In 2020, the upper 2,000 meters of the world’s oceans measured the highest temperatures since 1955. The oceans absorbed 20 zettajoules last year compared to 1 zettajoule of energy in 2019. This heat is equivalent to 630 billion hair blow-driers running day and night, every day for an entire year. Using fewer hair driers is not exactly the answer, but our energy use is part of the solution, said Abraham. “We can do things individually, like buy more efficient vehicles or make our houses more efficient. We can also do things collectively, like develop national and international agreements to cut back on pollution,” he said. “The fortunate thing is, we can stop global warming. And we can do it with today’s technology,” he said. “I am confident about clean energy. We know how to use energy more wisely, we are smart enough not to waste, and we are smart enough to buy more energy from wind and solar power. The costs have dropped so much that now you can buy electricity from the sun that is cheaper than dirty coal. Using clean energy can save our planet and money, at the same time.”

Ocean heating, by decade

300 250 200 150 100 50 0 -50 -100 -150 -200

1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 2020

1940s 1950s

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School of Engineering faculty secured nearly $1million inmajor grants this academic year from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Learnmore about how these grants will benefit St. Thomas and the scientific community.

Dr. Brittany Nelson-Cheeseman teaching an engineering class.


PARTICLE IMAGE VELOCIMETER The National Science Foundation awarded a Major Research Instrumentation grant for the acquisition of a state-of-the-art instrument known as a particle image velocimeter. The interdisciplinary team includes four faculty from the School of Engineering: Principal investigator (PI): Dr. David Forliti , Mechanical Engineering Co-PI: Dr. Thomas Shepard , Mechanical Engineering Co-PI: Dr. John Abraham , Mechanical Engineering Co-PI: Dr. Cheol-Hong Min , Electrical and Computer Engineering The team also includes one faculty member from the College of Arts and Sciences, Co-PI Dr. Thomas Höft of the Mathematics Department. “Particle image velocimetry has become one of the most impactful instruments for exploring the dynamics of flowing fluids. The system operates via tracking the motion of particles added to the fluid, which are illuminated by a laser sheet and imaged using digital cameras,” Forliti said. “The tracking of the particles allows for detailed measurement of the velocity field in fluid flows, enabling the investigation of flows in engineering applications as well in the natural environment.”

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REMOTELY OPERATED SCANNING ELECTRON MICROSCOPE The National Science Foundation also awarded a $200K grant that will allow St. Thomas students to use state-of-the-art technology regardless of their physical location: a scanning electron microscope with energy dispersive spectrometer (SEM-EDS). University of St. Thomas faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Dougherty Family College collaborated on the grant application: Principal investigator: Dr. Thomas Hickson , Geology Co-PI: Dr. Brittany Nelson-Cheeseman , Materials Science and Engineering Co-PI: Dr. Jennifer T. McGuire , Biology Co-PI: Dr. Michele Stillinger , Geology, Dougherty Family College The new instrument can focus on an area the size of a particle of dust and determine its elemental composition without damaging the delicate sample. The SEM fires an incredibly fine electron beam at the sample, producing images 250 times the magnification levels of the best conventional microscopes. In addition to the microscope, St. Thomas will use the grant to purchase a critical point dryer to prepare sensitive specimens, such as insects and microbes.

NATIONAL MEDICAL RESEARCH GRANT Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Dr. Lucas Koerner landed a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that will be applied to create an ion channel open-source amplifier that can be used and modified to make ion channel electrical measurements. Ion channels are critical components of the nervous system; understanding the electronics of these proteins plays an essential part in understanding many neurological diseases. Complex commercial amplifiers are currently used to measure ion channels. The current commercial options require a lot of user interaction; Koerner is planning to have automated digital calibration a main feature of the ion channel open-source amplifier.

Dr. Lucas Koerner

Koerner, who was principal investigator on the grant application, originally applied for the grant in summer 2019. The reviews were generally positive; he and co-investigators Engineering Assistant Professor Dr. Thomas Secord and Biology Associate Professor Dr. Kurt Illig fixed some aspects that resulted in the successful second revision. Before coming to St. Thomas, Koerner most recently worked as a camera engineer for Apple, an experience that benefits both his students and his research. “[In that work] I needed to measure small currents accurately, which is exactly what we’re trying to do with the ion channel open-source amplifier,” he said. “It seems like a leap, but the similarities actually are there.”

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For most, the pandemic has disrupted our routine lives,

research assistant, Aline Serrao De Fillippo, also contributes. Together the team is developing a novel therapy monitoring system: Intelligent Tele-Health Rehabilitation System (iTHRs). iTHRs combines artificial intelligence with computer vision to quantify videos from in-home neurorehabilitation sessions. The AI module in iTHRs is designed to identify and track leg and knee movements, quantify them with therapy and without, and compute parameters of these motions for feedback to patients and clinicians. Future development can bring this ability to a cellphone. This information can encourage and guide patients, or trigger alerts to physicians and care teams for

diagnosis or therapy adjustment. The quantification of movement, in some aspects, is more objective and systematic than data captured in a clinic. The figure included shows the teammeeting and a sequence of iTHRs analyses. The team is planning papers and seeking research funding. The work is an excellent example of medical, neuro, data and computer scientists responding to COVID-19 challenges and patient needs now…and imagining a new and improved future.

challenging jobs, family interactions, school and normal health care. For some, such as patients with spinal injuries, COVID-19 lockdowns disrupt an already challenging time – their recovery following spinal cord injury. While spinal injury remains a major problem, promising approaches are showing amazing results in helping even severely impacted patients recover some motor control. The treatment regimens require long durations of assisted movement with clinical feedback. In more typical times, this feedback is provided by highly trained teams in a rehabilitation center. For COVID-19-impacted patients, facilities are often closed and expert teams unavailable. To help patients continue neurorehabilitation, I have teamed with Dr. Igor Lavrov, assistant professor of neurology and biomedical engineering at Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Dwight Nelson, neuroscientist and CEO at Neureux LLC. My graduate data science

Virtual meeting of AI team: Drs. Igor Lavrov, Chih Lai, Dwight Nelson and graduate research assistant Aline Serrao De Fillippo

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Undergraduate Profile


One thing you would love to do: Backpack around the world. Something most people wouldn’t know about you: I grew up raising sheep. If you had the chance to have lunch with any three people you wish, whomwould you invite? George Washington (I would love to hear one of his battle stories), Albert Einstein (I think it would be a really fun conversation) and St. Augustine (so I could learn more about my faith). Best thing about the civil engineering major/program: There are so many opportunities. I also work in the civil engineering lab as an assistant; I do research with Dr. Rita Lederle. For class there are a lot of site visits, so you really get to learn about the many career fields within civil engineering. At St. Thomas, you really get to know the professors and that makes for a comfortable environment. I think this makes you learn more as the professors really do care that you do well.

Name: Mandy Birnbaum ’22 Hometown: Milaca, Minnesota Major/minor: Civil engineering major, aerospace studies minor

Describe yourself in three words: Quirky, passionate and hardworking. Why engineering at St. Thomas:

Favorite engineering class so far: Surveying – as I got to spend several hours during class outside. Engineering classes during COVID-19: One thing I liked is that I have

I love old buildings and so chose civil as I wanted to restore old buildings. I sat in on a civil engineering presentation and after that, St. Thomas was where I wanted to go. I learned of St. Thomas as my brother came here, but I chose

unlimited access to lectures that are posted online. If I don’t catch something during the lecture, I can re-watch it as many times as I need. Where to find you on a

St. Thomas for myself because of the scholarship I received, the Catholic presence, and the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

Sunday afternoon: Watching Netflix. I

really like international shows – currently am watching “Run On” from South Korea.

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Besser and her team of student researchers and fellow faculty members are focusing on what motivates the engineers of tomorrow, seeking to understand what will ignite in a student an innate curiosity about the larger context of a given project. Besser wants her students to think in terms of providing value that extends beyond profit, not just to the client but to all stakeholders in the community. “One component of being an entrepreneurial engineer is creating extraordinary value for others…by better understanding the larger community, and by learning about best practices in engaging diverse community stakeholders, we are better able to design with, and for, all people in our communities,” she said. “The Dale Street bridge is a fantastic example of how the community was integrated into the design process. We seek to learn about the intersection of the great work that occurred in project planning, includingwork by project manager Matt Christensen and artist Mica Anders.”

engineering students stood atop the bridge spanning across what was once the predominantly Black Rondo neighborhood, she provided historical context. (In the 1950s-60s, much of the Rondo neighborhood was razed to make way for Interstate 94. As a result, over 500 families were displaced, and the remaining halves of the neighborhood were never the same.) Dr. DonWeinkauf, dean of the School of Engineering, explains that the entrepreneurial mindset requires an engineer to domore than just solve for X. “Engineering is not about roads or bridges, it’s about people. A bridgemoves people. A roadmoves people. If we start thinking about engineering as a people profession, then the value that we’re creating for people is going to be improved,” Weinkauf said. ToWeinkauf, Besser is a shining example of the potential of her field. “Deb is a civil engineer with considerable industry experience as well as a professional licensed engineer. She’s also a professional educator…Deb really epitomizes that powerful combination of a different sort of skills that enhance the classroomexperience.”

D r. Deb Besser, chair of civil engineering and director of the Center for Engineering Education, was recently named a 2020 Engineering Unleashed Fellow – one of only 29 people across the nation. The fellowship, which includes funding to advance specific project work at St. Thomas, is awarded by the Kern Family Foundation in recognition of a commitment to developing engineers with an entrepreneurial mindset. The Engineering Unleashed fellowship is part of the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN), which includes 51 partner institutions and more than 3,000 engineering faculty members. To understand howBesser challenges her students to appreciate the potential of their profession as a means for advancing the common good for people and communities, consider how she taught them in fall 2020 about the newDale Street bridge. As Besser and a group of

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Undergraduate Profile

AMAGICIAN’S ASSISTANT Patrick Roche ’22 always had an interest in engineering as well as magic. What started as a visit to the TED conference in Vancouver with the Playful Learning Lab (PLL) changed the life of electrical engineering student Roche: David Kwong, a magician and crossword puzzle creator for The New York Times, asked him to be his magician assistant. After Roche helped Kwong at the conference’s trivia show, he offered him a position. “I thought it was a joke. I just thought he was being polite and complimenting me.” To Roche’s surprise, it was a real offer. The perfect combination of chance and “incredibly lucky networking” worked in Roche’s favor because he was able to assist David Kwong in New York City during his show, “The Enigmatist.” You’re a part of the Playful Learning Lab. What do you do? Overall, we are an engineering education lab focused on providing STEAM- based content for anyone who identifies as a learner, regardless of their age. My main role in that has been on a project called ‘Circus Science,’ which is creating dynamic e-textiles for circus performers. It basically means I get to make cool light-up costumes for trapeze artists. That’s been my focal area, although I also was involved in the Art in Space project as the electrical engineer. The Art in Space project stemmed from another PLL project called OK Go Sandbox, where we work with the band OK Go’s music videos and provide educational resources for teachers. What is your magic style? My style shifts as needed. I have done only a couple of stage performances for school charity shows, but my preferred style is walk-around card magic. Who would play you in the movie of your life? My first inclination was Neil Patrick Harris, but am I worthy of NPH? I think he would be funny. I could also say David Kwong. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Probably Italy. I would be content to live on a diet of pasta and gelato. I don’t think there’s such thing as too much Italian food. Who is your hero? I would say my great-grandpa, even though I wasn’t able to meet him. His made-in-America success story and work ethic have been passed down through my family. His dad died when he was really young, and he wasn’t able to go to college because he had to start working to support his family. He ended up working up to the top of the company he was at. What else are you involved in on campus? I am very active in the Rock Climbing Club. What is your go-to karaoke song? I really don’t like to sing, but if I had to pick a song it would be ‘Galway Girl’ by Ed Sheeran. Where do you see yourself in five years? My career interests range fromWalt Disney Imagineering to the FBI, so you can fit a lot in between those two ends of the spectrum.

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St. Thomas Graduate Programs in Software students Himanshu Gamit ‘20 and Jacob Noble ‘20 were named the winners of the annual SAS Global Forum Student Symposium competition in April 2020. The highly competitive event draws dozens of teams from around the country and requires them to analyze a publicly available data set from the National Science Foundation and write a report. The top eight student teams and their faculty adviser – School of Engineering Professor Manjeet Rege, in this case – are invited to the symposium in Washington, D.C., (held online last year) to present their work. “Doing this for many years you can spot students who are passionate; I saw passion in many of these teams I put together and these two that won absolutely demonstrate that passion,” Rege said. “Wherever there was an issue throughout the entire process, they were creative and found a fix.” Gamit and Noble used various machine learning techniques to “explore, analyze and recommend similar proposal abstracts to aid the NSF or Awardee with the Merit Review Process,” a crucial thing for a foundation that draws some 50,000 research funding applications each year. “The topic area showed they went beyond what was in the classroom. You can see they had to do some work to get the data to be usable, and then used methods that aren’t usually in the

classroom,” said Jonie Shreve, a SAS distinguished professor at Louisiana State University and a judge in the competition. “What I’ve seen typically in academics, they didn’t come up with the clearest [data] clusters; the approach [Gamit and Noble] used was much better. That’s what makes a great analyst: ‘This wasn’t working; let me figure out what other approaches I can use.’” In creating their competition-winning study, Gamit and Noble drew on skills they’ve grown in St. Thomas’ program. “Data science coursework gave us a wide view of what the industry looks like and put us on the track where we could self-learn, and build knowledge, while working on any real-world problem,” Gamit said. “Adviser Manjeet Rege has guided us well throughout the coursework and helped us initiate the project to learn more in the field of data science.” Rege reinforced the strong performance was an example of the kind of practical application skills St. Thomas data science students work to develop. “In data science, you’re hired based on what you can apply,” he added. “This is a validation of what you can apply and the skill set you develop here.”

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 .

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Last summer, many undergraduates found their internships cut because of COVID-19. The pandemic also affected elementary students with many in-person summer camps canceled. For a group of St. Thomas students from a variety of disciplines, the university’s Playful Learning Lab (PLL) was able to provide both a paying job and an opportunity to create a virtual summer program for more than 80 deaf and hard of hearing elementary- age children. A PLL project called the PLAYground supplied free weekly themed boxes of activities and materials to students from the Metro Deaf School and the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. PLL camp counselors (along with interpreters and staff from schools and community volunteers) hosted virtual check-ins on weekdays with the children to guide them through playful lessons on everything from nature and magic to science and engineering. Originally designed only for deaf students, the lessons were translated into multiple languages: American Sign Language, Arabic, Spanish, Somali and English.

When AnnMarie Thomas, founder and director of the PLL and professor in the School of Engineering and Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, realized many students had lost coveted internships due to the pandemic, she decided to add to the PLL’s workforce. “I originally thought I’d have 10 people working in the Playful Learning Lab [last] summer and instead had about 30 students on the payroll,” said Thomas, who noted funds from Cognizant and prize money from the LEGO Foundation helped to pay salaries. “Anyone who wanted an internship – I hired them all back and gave them all raises.”

ALUMNUS TERRENCE WHITE RECEIVES OUTSTANDING STUDENT RESEARCH AWARD Terrence White, a St. Thomas alumnus who received his master’s degree in data science in 2019, was awarded the Jay Liebowitz Outstanding Student Research Award at the 60th Annual International Association for Computer Information Systems (IACIS) Conference. White collaborated with Associate Professor of Graduate Programs in Software and Data Science and Director of Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence Manjeet Rege on the data science project “Sentiment Analysis on Google Cloud Platform.” The Jay Liebowitz Outstanding Student Research Award is an award that recognizes an outstanding student research paper submitted to the conference.

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