March Prism - 2002
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On Campus

- By Erin Drenning

Good Design, Good works

The number 13 doesn't always bring bad luck.

That's how many years mechanical engineering professor Daniel Haines has been instructing do-gooders at Manhattan College in the Bronx, and he has seen nothing but good returns.

Haines started teaching senior mechanical engineering design in 1989 and, as part of the course, began requiring his students to construct group projects that benefit people with disabilities. For the past 13 years, Haines has witnessed the care and deliberation that his students put into their projects for nursing homes and care centers in the surrounding neighborhood. The class has created everything from a barbecue grill adapted for use by people in wheelchairs to a board game that retrains hand movements in patients who have lost their manual mobility.

Each semester, 16 class members break up into three or four smaller groups to design and build a useful device for local institutions. The students maintain contact with patients and staff for the duration of the project to be sure that they understand and meet the needs of the project beneficiaries. “It is very rewarding,” says Haines, “and it gives everyone a great sense of satisfaction when we see what the students have created.”


High Schoolers Take Off

They shoot model rockets, fly and make paper airplanes. But despite appearances, it's not all fun and games.

Low-income and potential first-generation college students from eight high schools in Florida's Volusia County and Arizona's Yavapai County are studying math, science, aviation, and aeronautics at their local schools through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Upward Bound programs. To participate, students are required to commit their Saturdays and six weeks each summer to the program from eighth grade through high school. And the results of this hard work speak for themselves. Of students who graduated from the program in the past five years, 73 percent have gone on to college and an additional 9 percent are in the military.

Embry-Riddle's program is part of the national Upward Bound initiative that started in 1973. Upward Bound is a federally funded program that seeks to increase the rates of college matriculation and success of participants in more than 800 locations across the nation.

Like all Upward Bound programs, Embry-Riddle provides free services, including year-round counseling and advising, an intensive summer program, computer training, and student-conducted scientific research under the guidance of a mentor from the university faculty or graduate program. Embry-Riddle's program is unique, as it is the only Upward Bound campus in the nation to incorporate aeronautics into the science and mathoriented material.


Old Dominion Goes Global

Old Dominion University has teamed up with eight schools in Europe to offer a twist on the traditional master's of engineering degree. Students who complete two semesters and a thesis at a participating college abroad and finish at least one semester back in the States are eligible to earn two degrees through the Global Engineering Master's Program—one from ODU and the other from a European institution of higher learning.

Heidi Pawlowski, one of the first international students enrolled in project management at ODU last spring, intends to graduate from the University of Applied Science in Kaiserslautern, Germany, this summer. “I am very happy that I was at ODU,” she says. “I hope I gave friends and students from America some ideas and information about what German people are doing, working on, and learning. And hopefully we will learn the best from each other.” Pawlowski completed her thesis at Sweden's Dalarna University.

Seven students from overseas are studying in Norfolk, Va., this semester, according to program director Ralph Rogers. Unfortunately, none of ODU's students have taken advantage of the opportunity to travel to any of the network universities in Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, or Switzerland. “We are actively recruiting to get U.S. students abroad,” says Rogers. “We just haven't gotten anyone yet.”


Keeping Bacteria at Bay

You may want to think twice about buying that hot dog.

Three years ago, an outbreak of listeriosis killed 21 Americans who had unknowingly eaten hot dogs contaminated with a lethal food-borne pathogen. But thanks to a rudimentary database detailing the genetic makeup of different bacteria, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention was able to identify the mysterious killer as Listeria monocytogenes and promptly recalled the tainted food before it caused an even greater epidemic.

This lifesaving database, designed by Martin Wiedmann, an assistant professor of food science at Cornell University, has since grown tremendously in size and speed with the help of computer science and engineering students at the New York school.

PathogenTracker seemed to blossom overnight when Michael Chung, a computer science senior, got involved. "He came to my office one day and told me that he'd like to do lab work instead of sitting in front of a computer," says Wiedmann. "(Chung) was able to take this program and put it on the Web so that data from anywhere in the world could be added." With the input of students like Chung, PathogenTracker could help quell future outbreaks by alerting researchers around the globe about disease-causing bacteria that may have come from the same original source.


The Ghosts of Science Past

Science fiction is not always fiction, according to Tulane University biomedical engineering professor Kay C. Dee.

Dee is able to make this argument to her upper level bioethics class thanks to science fiction writers like Jules Verne, who described modern day amenities like fax machines and subways in his 1863 novel, “Paris in the 20th Century.” In her course, entitled “Brave New World” after Aldous Huxley's namesake novel that tackles issues of genetic engineering, students learn about past conjecture and the present potential of biotechnology. Elizabeth Tritschler, a Tulane student completing her joint B.A. and master's program in biomedical engineering this spring, says that Dee's class is the best she has taken at Tulane. “Just by being there I could learn so much—and that's not always true,” Tritschler said. “I never missed one class.”

Tulane graduate Amanda Filanowski agreed. “Everyone was pretty excited to go in and do the work.” Filanowski's team got the highest grade in the class on her cloning protocol project after putting in tons of hours, she says. But she didn't mind. “The projects were a nice change from the usual type of work.”


Erin Drenning is an associate editor at Prism magazine.
She can be reached by e-mail at


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