Dartmouth College

NCEES Engineering Education Award $10,000 winner

Thayer School of Engineering

Project: Low Cost, Open Source PFAS Filter Design for Small Cleaning Businesses and Beyond


Students: Ariana Arvelo, Abbi Fitzpatrick, Billy Gano, and Eliana Ray

Faculty: Vicki May, Ph.D., P.E.; Megan Romano, Ph.D.; Solomon Diamond, Ph.D.; Rafe Steinhauer, MEd

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

Real-world projects help students translate their classroom learnings into impactful work. Working with professionals to solve problems that have more than one “right” way to do things gives students a better understanding of what it means to do engineering work before they graduate. More than one student in Dartmouth’s project-based capstone course said the course changed the direction they were envisioning for their career. That’s truly valuable insight to gain before graduation, and it is due to the projects the students work on.

How do you decide what projects to work on?

At Dartmouth’s engineering school, capstone projects are vetted and scoped through the Cook Engineering Design Center, a virtual center established specifically to help engineering students get an industry flavor in their education. Projects come in throughout the summer, then engineers and professors take a look at each project idea and suggest adjustments to help the project align with Dartmouth’s two-quarter (20 week) capstone timeline as well as student interests. Then mid-September each student reviews each project and submits their preferences, and an algorithm matches student teams with compatible projects.

How did this project prepare students for professional practice?

The PFAS project got this group of students into a mindset that any proposed solution to a tough real-world problem needs to take into account all the stakeholders involved. In this case, the customer was a small business, but the solution had to work for the state’s citizens, for New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services, and for regulators.

The project helped students see that a professional engineer in practice can have a big impact on the future of the environment. One of the students summarized: “Hopefully, empowering small business owners to build their own PFAS filtration systems is just the first step in more widespread environmental PFAS removal efforts.”

This project improved the students’ knowledge and skills in the following areas:
– Data visualization
– Scientific research
– Ethical considerations in design and technical communication
– Prototyping
– Chemical analysis
– Statistical analysis
– Design for usability (plumbing!) and accessibility
– Fastener design
– Technical communication, and
– Environmental engineering

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

I would highly recommend other programs who want to add collaborative projects to their curriculum get plugged into their state’s PE community. The professional engineering community in New Hampshire has been really supportive of students getting real-world experience before graduating. The PE’s the students work with are universally passionate about engineering practice and they want to pass the baton to the next generation of engineers. Getting PE’s involved in student projects from the very beginning of project scoping activity is a great way to benefit students, engineers, and the community at large.