California State University, Los Angeles

NCEES Engineering Education Award $10,000 winner

Department of Civil Engineering

Project: Sustainable Recycled Water Recharge Program


Students: Cesar Jeovany Orellana, Michael Scott Duchetta, Ramon Herman, Joe Angel Rosalez, Diego Alejandro Carrizo, Edgar Ernesto Chavez, Anthony Steven Hernandez, Felicia Yin, Aaron Justin Corey, Alexis Joshua Diaz Gonzalez I, Justin Ramsey, Jose I. Velasquez, Justin Jimenez, Daniel Marquez, Alan Lopez, Moustafa Ezzeddine, Emmanuel Diaz, Bernice Satiago, Adriana Lopez, and Ryan Yip

Faculty: Dr. Sonya Lopez, Project Faculty lead; John Elias Shamma, Senior Design Instructor; Howard Lum, Senior Design Instructor; Jiansheng Song, Senior Design Instructor; Dr. Rupa Purasinghe, Senior Design Coordinator; and Dr. Mark Tufenkjian, Department Chair

Professional Engineers: John Elias Shamma, P.E.; Howard Lum, P.E., S.E.; Rupasiri Purasinghe, P.E.; Mark Tufenkjian, P.E.; and Jiansheng Song, P.E.

Jury comments:

“The benefits of the project will greatly serve this region.”

“The display was very creative in providing concise details but not going over the top. Very professionally put together for description and abstract.”

“The submission explained well the participation of P.E.s and other professionals from the various disciplines. It also did not skimp on technical detail.”

What value does a real-world project bring to the students?

I have taught many courses, and no assignment holds as much value as one with real-world applications. Students like to know they are working on something with a purpose; otherwise, they question the value of the knowledge. There is direct value in the knowledge they obtain throughout their undergraduate career, and their senior design project is the opportunity to put it all together.

How do you decide which projects to work on?

Our civil engineering department aims to collaborate with local industry partners, so students directly contact affiliates and are working on a real-world project. The senior design capstone project is an opportunity for our industry partner to benefit from students working together on a project of interest, and students benefit from the industry partner’s experience. The Metropolitan Water District funded this project. They were incredibly supportive throughout this process.

How did this project prepare students for professional practice?

The students had a lot of data to process, time restraints, and personal stressors (COVID-19) during this project period. They all handled the issues with grace and performed exceptionally well under pressure. They prepared an online presentation for our industry partners to review and then held a question and answer session. Their online presentation was flawless, and they answered all industry questions with incredible professionalism and confidence. They all worked as a team to support one another and mastered the art of online communication.

What advice do you have for other programs wanting to add similar collaborative projects to their curriculum?

(1) It is helpful to have all department faculty actively involved in the projects throughout the year. This project required variable expertise, and it was helpful that our faculty were willing to assist students. (2) Halfway through the project timeline, have students prepare an update for the industry partners—this is helpful to gain insight and guidance for the project direction. (3) Let them have a little fun. This capstone course takes place during the students’ senior year, so senioritis was in full effect. After the lecture ended, we had scheduled social events to keep up morale and build rapport (with me and each other).

What did you like best about participating in this project?

I liked learning about the modeling process for surface and subsurface flow and the overall considerations engineers need to make so that feasible, economic, and sustainable projects come to fruition. Additionally, seeing multiple minds come together, each coming up with their solution towards various problems, was also very interesting; it made the project unique.

What did you learn?

A vast amount! First off was learning software such as MATLAB, ParFlow, and ArcGIS (among others). For example, object orientation on MATLAB is different from ParFlow, so we had to ensure we had the proper format when interchanging data and results between the two. Secondly, was the actual engineering required to essentially “play” with the parameters of our tools. The parameters required us to either freshen up or learn the soil classification triangle, locations of various watersheds, effects of fault lines on the water table, interpolation techniques, water treatment processes, anchoring for nonbuilding structures, and much more.

How did the participation of professional engineers improve the experience?

Without the professional engineers, we most likely would have spent countless hours trying to figure out something that may not have worked. They all put into perspective the effects that some of our decisions would make. I remember when we were selecting a location (required to have site-specific conditions), one of the P.E.s recommended staying close to an area where the injection of the treated sludge would a) not interfere with the local community and b) take advantage of the volumetric flow of the water table. Another suggested how to break down the spatialization to reduce computation time and still achieve good results. Suggestions as the ones mentioned were very insightful and helped carry along the project smoothly.

What do you think the engineers learned from working with students on this project?

In all honesty, it is hard to say. They were all very knowledgeable and taught us an incredible amount. Perhaps, if there is anything at all, they learned that the incoming wave of new engineers will provide advanced solutions to real-world problems. Whatever it may be, I hope they enjoyed working with us as much as we enjoyed working with them.

Why did you get involved with the project?

Working with students enriches my life; it allows me to be familiar with the new generation of civil engineering students and connects me to new people and their ideas. Being involved with the project allowed me to, in a very small way, return to the community that supported and nourished me as a student and a young engineer.

How did you assist the students in the project?

I helped answer permitting questions and helped guide the students to find the technical research they needed to complete their project. I also helped with some of the hydraulic calculations and the design of the wells.

What did you learn from working with the students?

The students helped me step outside my usual circle of professional engineers and look at the world from the perspective of young engineers. I enjoyed their perspectives and the constant flow of new ideas.

What did you want students to learn from working with you?

In addition to sharing my experience and knowledge with the students, I hoped to share information that can help them become better engineers and successful in their endeavors.