UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
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Service Learning: Engineering Students Design Solutions for Community Organizations

One year after the Jacobs School launched its new program deploying teams of students to help community organizations address challenges through technology, both the community clients and students are reaping the benefits. Through Teams in Engineering Service (TIES), students get academic credit and a crash course in team engineering and multi-disciplinary research in a real-world environment, and non-profits get tech savvy young engineers to work on projects the agencies could otherwise not afford.

Litza Serrer field tests water quality at the San Diego River . She is part of a Jacobs School team that is designing a remotely operated system to record, wirelessly transmit, and store data on the river water's physical and chemical properties.

One of the early community clients is Lakeside 's River Park Conservancy, which is reclaiming a stretch of wetlands and deserted mining quarries along the San Diego River and turning it into an ecological preserve and river park. Thirty-five UCSD students are helping out.

While one team is developing a network of remote sensors to monitor air, ground and water quality, other students are building the Infostream 3000, a prototype solar-powered kiosk which will provide interactive maps, information about the flora and fauna in the riparian habitat, and historical information about Lakeside. A third UCSD team is designing an equestrian bridge linking two sides of the park. During the winter 2005 quarter, the team submitted two models to the conservancy for its consideration.

"We were more than pleased with the kinds of products the students came up with," says Robin Rierdan, project manager of the Lakeside 's River Park Conservancy. "They were innovative, they were thoughtful, and they far exceeded our imagination about what can be used in technology."

TIES student participants Chris Lee (left) and Robert Lee (right) with St. Paul’s nurse Greg Tompkins (center).
It’s exciting because we’re applying our various engineering skills to create a product that’s never been developed before. We’re helping to improve resident care and at the same time we’re learning to work in a team of engineers, which is how everything in industry is accomplished.” —Chris Lee, senior, CSE

UCSD TIES client Cheryl Wright, CEO of St. Paul's Senior Homes & Services, is equally pleased with the program. She says the long-term care facility had been hungering for a technology partner to help cope with the triple threat of reduced funding, fewer nurses and increasing demand for services.

"When you think about it, the only answer is technology," says Wright. "You have to be very smart and creative about using technology to alleviate the crises we face, or we won't be able to provide care - and not providing care is not an alternative."

Two teams of TIES students are hoping to help. The 15-member digital nursing team is creating a laptop version of St. Paul 's 24-hour nursing log, which currently has nurses hand-writing documentation about health conditions of residents. The team worked with the nursing staff to determine their needs, then used a design-development-feedback process to generate a prototype that is more succinct, easier to reference, and permits multiple users to access the log simultaneously.

The smart furnishings team of 20 students is aiming to help nurses keep track of how residents are doing. They are developing a wearable sensor device for residents that can alert nurses in case of an emergency. The interns have teamed up with Cox Communications to provide data transmission.

All of the student-designed projects are provided at no cost to community clients, and are funded by grants and philanthropic donations. With more than 60 students participating and a pent-up demand from others who want to get involved, TIES administrators are now looking for community, engineering, and corporate support to add three new projects per year. Visit http://ties.ucsd.edu for more information.