April 05, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

A closeup of a student working intently on his senior design engineering project.
Braden Kopenkoskey, a senior majoring in engineering with a concentration in electrical and computer engineering, works on his senior design project.

When Nate Anderson from Minneapolis, Minn. was making his college decision, he was looking for two things: a smaller private Christian university and a great engineering program.

“There are a lot of small Christian schools in the United States and a lot of schools with really great engineering programs,” said Anderson. “But if you look at the Venn diagram of the two different categories, there’s almost nothing in the middle.”

Anna Giboney, from La Crescenta, California, added a third criterion. Coming from a diverse pocket in California, she wanted the opportunity to engage with a multicultural community.

Fortunately for both Anderson and Giboney, there would be no need to scale back their expectations.

“Calvin was one of those very few schools that fit in that small slice of the Venn diagram,” said Anderson.

“That’s something that pulled me in, not only the Christian and the engineering aspects, but that third branch of how many international students are on campus and that Calvin actually has engineering trips abroad,” said Giboney. “To be able to fit an international experience into a four-year degree is really uncommon.”

Creating a user-friendly solution

Anderson and Giboney are now in the final few weeks of their Calvin experience and together working as part of a four-person team on their senior design project.

The team is designing a user-friendly device that will help people living in India and China, two countries most affected by long-term exposure to air pollution, to detect if they are in harm’s way.

While there are ways to detect the presence of certain harmful pollutants already, they are industrial-grade devices and cost hundreds of dollars. “So, the gap we are filling is in that common user,” said Giboney, “not someone who wants to spend $600 on a device, someone who wants to spend a lot less to see if their kids need to get out of the current environment they are in for their safety.”

Anderson and Giboney, along with fellow engineering majors Jordan Alexander and Ben DeWeerd are one of the 20 groups who will showcase their work—their prototypes or “proof of concepts”—on Saturday, April 15, 2023, at the Senior Design Open House.

Multiplying production and impact

Braden Kopenkoskey, Jacob Van Wyngarden, Jonathan Washburn, and Ryan Storteboom, are another team of engineers ready to showcase their project, a machine they designed to automate the process of making pigs in a blanket.

“Ryan’s family works with South Olive Christian School and they run a year-round fundraiser with the proceeds going toward helping kids from very low-income families be able to attend the school,” said Van Wyngarden.

The fundraiser is a resounding success year-after-year, they make and sell pigs in a blanket, but the number of man hours and labor-intensive process was causing volunteer burnout. So, the team of engineering majors at Calvin got to work and created a solution that automates the process and multiplies the product and the impact.

“The school estimates that if they could double their production, they could double their sales,” said Kopenkoskey. “So, we are going to see a dramatic increase in what they can produce and fundraise for and it’s going to significantly drop tuition rates for those who need it most.”

Building on classroom concepts

All of the senior engineering teams are working on solving problems with their projects and are committed to, actually intentionally trained to, not only create solutions but ones that are customized to fit the culture and context.

“All the engineering classes we take focus on problem solving,” said Trevor Boer, a civil and environmental engineering major. “So just the general curriculum in the engineering program prepares all students well for tackling a design problem. What are the specs you need to meet, the requirements, the project needs? And also, the emphasis in Christian engineering, how do you consider the cultural appropriateness of the design?”

Boer is working with fellow civil and environmental engineering majors Jose Munoz, David Bulten, and Matt Van Zeelt in coming up with a gravity-fed water distribution system for a community in Honduras.

“We’ve done something similar in one of our hydraulic classes, now we are doing it more in real life,” said Bulten.

“The overall process and the software that we are using to create that design is the same,” said Van Zeelt, “but we are able to build on what we learned in that course and are making it more complex for this larger scope.”

Equipped to exceed industry standards

The visuals, the “proof of concepts” the students will present in mid-April are indeed impressive, even on-par with industry output.

“The fascinating thing is with a lot of engineering companies, that’s where they stop [with a proof of concept],” said Giboney. “So, big companies will hire an engineering company and ask them to give them a proof of concept as the deliverable, so having the seniors end at proof of concept isn’t as if we are missing the next step in manufacturing, it’s actually what a lot of companies do in engineering.”

But the outcome for each of these soon-to-be graduates goes well beyond the design solutions they helped create.

“The reason I wanted a private Christian liberal arts education is the ability to diversify my learning and that’s what I’ve loved about Calvin’s engineering program,” said Giboney. “It was concentrations, it wasn’t majoring in mechanical engineering and never getting access to any of these other branches.”

“We get a broader education, so it’s nice because we are dangerous in different disciplines,” said Boer. “Like we took an electrical course, so if I ever talk with the process group at my firm, who do a lot of electronics, I at least know what they are talking about, I’m not going in blind.”

“Our classes here really teach us how to learn so that we can be successful when we go out into the workforce and world,” said Alexander. “Whether that’s learning new things in engineering or learning how to be leaders or good speakers or good communicators, I think Calvin has equipped me to learn.”

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