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News @ PSU

News and information from Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Project gives students a real-world experience

Instructor Paul Herring discusses the class project with students Phillip Bowden, far left; Shyam Sampathkumar, Cole Bowman, Jacob VanBecelaere, and Jennifer Muaghalu.

Putting plastic to work

Paul Herring, an assistant professor in Pittsburg State University’s Plastics Engineering Program believes it’s not enough that students know their subject matter. He wants to see them put what they’ve learned to work in real-world situations.

This year, the students in Herring’s Senior Class Project class had an additional opportunity to use their skills in what Herring describes as a team design project. The opportunity arose when a PSU alumna who is teaching special needs students in an Olathe elementary school called Herring for help.

Kerstin Womble, a life skills teacher at Clearwater Creek Elementary School, asked Herring whether his students would be interested in helping her acquire a tool, sometimes called a slant board, that is used to help special needs students improve their writing skills.

“The project fit our needs perfectly,” Herring said. “It was simple enough to accomplish in the time we had. It also had the element of public service that we liked.”

Herring said he had four goals for his students with this project.

“I wanted to introduce design tools and procedures, to complete the project in a timely fashion, to promote teamwork and to provide community service,” Herring said.

The students accepted the challenge and each volunteered to complete one task.

The project began with a telephone interview with the teacher in which she described how the slant board would be used and aspects of the design that were important. The process that followed included competitive product analysis, definition of product requirements, search and selection of hardware, selection of the materials and the processes to be used, computer design, tool fabrication and, finally, the actual manufacture of the product.

The students actually created four prototypes using different materials that they delivered to Clearwater Creek Elementary School in March. From those four, the teachers who would be using the slant boards selected one design from which Herring’s class will manufacture four to six units to donate to the class.

“It was a perfect project for the class,” Herring said. “The students were able to take the product from concept to production in a very short time. It is a condensed version of what takes place in the plastics industry on a daily basis.”

The students in Herring’s class said they were challenged by constraints of time and cost – factors that every business must consider, according to Herring. They said that as they worked as a team, not everyone agreed, but they learned to compromise and depend on each other.

The result was a hit. Womble said other special education teachers were impressed with the Pitt State students’ project.

“Pitt State is well known in the Kansas City area,” Womble said, “but not everyone up here knows about all the great programs we have at PSU. It was good to show off just a little.”

Students involved in the project were Phillip Bowden, Louisburg, Kan.; Cole Bowman, Fort Scott, Kan.; Jennifer Muoghalu, Pittsburg, Kan.; Joseph Oplotnik, Columbus, Kan.; Shyam Sampathkumar, India; Adam Tilman, Humboldt, Kan.; Zachary Tyler, Eudora, Kan.; Jacob VanBecelaere, Pittsburg, Kan.; and Chris Wagner, Stark, Kan.

---Pitt State---