Lawrence Technological University

NCEES Engineering Education Award $10,000 winner

Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering

Project: Oakland University Interdisciplinary Research Center


Students: Mario Chiesa, Sydney Shultz, Alayne Nyboer, Nathan Mark, Nicklas Kent, and Brandon Garcia

Faculty: Ahmed Albayati, Arpan Guha, Mena Bebawy, Keith Kowalkowski, Michael Nowicki, and Pierce Sadlier

Professional Engineer: Christopher Michael Fazzalare, P.E.

Jury comments:

“This project will have a significant impact on research productivity.”

“Lots of multidisciplinary aspects were involved – project management and architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, and construction engineering. There was good collaboration with many professionals both within and outside of the university.”

“This was a great multidiscipline project that covered many facets of engineering and closely followed the real-world process for designing a new building.”

Keith Kowalkowski, Ph.D., P.E., S.E. is Assistant chair and associate professor
in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering at Lawrence Technological University.

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

The architectural engineering capstone project at Lawrence Technological University allows students to fully understand the engineering design process from conceptual design to final deliverables. Students are required to propose their own projects in front of a faculty audience and then propose engineering solutions in the design of all systems that support the building. They are required to go through different stages of design and various alternatives. They also are required to develop multiple quality reports and presentations for various types of audiences keeping the client and higher level engineers in mind. They are actively engaged with both faculty advisors and industry mentors that critique their work and enhance their performance as engineers and professionals. The students also work in teams and learn many skills becoming effective leaders and collaborative thinkers. Students must demonstrate a number of qualities, not just in technical areas of architectural engineering, but also in their professional skill set which cannot be fully developed in traditional engineering courses.

How do you decide which projects to work on?

Students are required to select their own projects; however, there are some constraints/expectations regarding the projects they select. There are two primary documents that the teams are required to submit in order for their projects to be approved including the letter of interest and the project proposal. In these, students must demonstrate a realistic need for their facility and select a site where the facility will be located and how that facility will benefit the local community. As part of the proposal, the team must demonstrate how each student will contribute to the project within their own individual architectural engineering subdisciplines. There is not specific criteria regarding limitations of the building or site plan, but the faculty decides if the size of the building and the amount of scope that needs to be performed during the academic year is adequate based on their proposal. Other issues that must be considered during the project proposal include but are not limited to sustainability, environmental concerns, and project cost.

Other programs must have a strong partnership with local industry, entrepreneurs, and inventors in order to know what is expected and needed in the world outside of the university. As well, there should be faculty with real industry experience to guide programs that foster these student experiences.

How did this project prepare students for professional practice?

Students in the capstone project learn several items regarding professional practice. Even though the project is primarily facilitated by faculty, the students do interact with industry mentors and the Architectural Engineering Industry Advisory Board at least once during the fall and spring semesters. The architectural engineering program follows the ASCE Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge, 3rd Edition (CEBOK3) for performing assessment and the capstone project is a major component of the assessment. Some of the student outcomes that are assessed include communication, teamwork and leadership, professional attitudes, professional responsibilities, and ethical responsibilities. For communication, students are expected to have team meetings with their advisors, individual meetings with supervising faculty, prepare a total of six presentations during the course of the year and write six technical reports (three individually and three as team reports).

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

Although the capstone project does not generate a project that is physically built, the students gain extremely valuable experience in seeing how their education applies from the start of a project to the end of the project, and it also helps teach the students how to develop quality deliverables in different formats. During the project, students weigh several design alternatives and are forced to justify their design decisions. The project goes hand in hand with assessment and targeting some of those outcomes that are difficult to target in traditional engineering courses. The project also allows the students to get engaged with industry mentors. The project has facilitated more open discussion between the faculty and the Industry Advisory Board. The project summarizes what the students have learned in their undergraduate education, and this really helps the board provide constructive feedback.

What did you like best about participating in this project?

The collaboration efforts participating in this project provided a strong bond between students in order to provide an integrated and realistic-based project for a local university. In the overall development of the project, we established that the learning curve for understanding various design and analysis programs was steep, yet workable in the sense that the students were able to propel themselves successfully beyond the scope of the project. The project allowed us to further understand the finer details involved in the individual disciplines of architecture, structural, mechanical and plumbing, electrical, and construction. Each discipline had specifics that needed to be understood, applied, and detailed for the project as it pertains to university standards, demands, and overall compatibility. Ultimately, the project was presented to faculty, professional engineers, and other individuals in the architectural and engineering fields. The presentations allowed for us to showcase our project and show the confidence in our design and allow feedback and conversations for the decisions of designs that were made and implanted into the plans.

What did you learn?

Universally it can be said that this project for the Oakland University Interdisciplinary Research Center taught the team a lot through the various workings of the project. From architecture, structural engineering, to MEP engineering, and construction engineering, the team had to understand, design, and develop a project specific for the client needs, while learning the ways around various equipment, loading, and design methods that would be feasible, adequate, and efficient for a modern building in today’s world. Specifically for me, I learned a lot in respects to a few topics: team, architecture, and structural.

For team, I was the project lead who oversaw all decisions, designs, and presented work from each individual on the project. I coordinated between the individuals for integration of systems and plans regarding the building design and effective construction methods. The importance of overseeing and managing the project as a whole took a vast amount of reliability to maintain deadlines and thoroughly present and strong, clear, and concise project as a team.

For architecture, I acted as the team architect designing the project site, incoming utilizes, building program, envelop, and exterior façade. As pertaining to the design and program of the project, I delved into the importance of the specific uses of occupancy of the building as it would be utilized as a research and laboratory center in the fields of science, technology, and engineering.

For structural, I acted as the team’s structural engineer, who designed the superstructure of the building including foundations, steel framing (beams, columns, roof joist, girders, braced frames, moment frames), masonry walls, floor, and roof diaphragms. Also included in the structural scope was connection design between steel framing, masonry, and the building diaphragms. I was able to research, understand, and design the specifics of each building material and method of design for the building as I desired with the appropriate reasons.

How did the participation of professional engineers improve the experience?

The participation of a professional engineer with our project vastly improved the experience of establishing the design development and construction documentation phases. With the assistance of the professional engineer, we were able to apply real-world knowledge, experience, and expertise to the project to which we would not have known otherwise just through common book and school knowledge. The professional engineer allowed us to expand our horizons in thought processes and applications of design so the project would be able to be looked at by any professional in these fields and understand the design intent and overall goal of the project.

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

The engineer working with our team on this project was a previous Lawrence Technological University graduate student. I’d imagine the engineer learned from us about the way we have experienced the Lawrence Technological University Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering program, as well as the thought processes we encompassed and used in the project. It could be anticipated that the engineer learned that we were a strong group of like-minded individuals, who had good intentions and aspirations for the development of the capstone project.

Why did you get involved with the project?

As a graduate of Lawrence Technological University and the architectural engineering program myself, I wanted to propel the students forward by sharing my real-life design, construction, client interaction, and presentation experience with the students.

How did you assist the students in the project?

I assisted the project team in various ways from reviewing conceptual layouts, one-lines, and diagrams to helping with their development through to the final product. As a mentor for the project, I felt it was very important to allow the students’ work to develop on their own, to support the growth of innovate ideas, but lend practical knowledge they may not have access to yet such as industry best practices and reviewing options through the lens of project life cycle and cost effectiveness.

What did you learn from working with the students?

I learned that the architectural engineering program continually prepares students for their start in the industry. I was impressed by the starting knowledge and innovation these students were presenting every time I met with them. The questions they asked and the depth that some of our conversations went into with engineering/proving systems was on par with professional office conversation.

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

Working through the project, I wanted to introduce the students to the practice and stages of engineering a project. While a lot of time at school is spent learning about the calculations, system types, and limitations, there are also practice elements that can help the students organize their thoughts through each stage of the design process and when to perform each calculation or detail a system layout. This is often taught through experience at internships; however, the basics of taking your ideas, diagrams, and floor plans from concept to a well-organized set of drawings is in my mind the last important step in completing part of the training and introducing them to the industry they are about to join as young professionals.

Equally important to me was to have the opportunity to show the students there is more than one way to accomplish a specific design objective. I wanted to the students to learn that innovation and opportunity are something that can be found in any design challenge. If the canvas is new or the original plan/detail did not work out as originally intended, it is how you react and modify the design to find the solution that shows the value of an engineer.  It was refreshing to see the students accepting the challenge of looking at things in a different direction, finding several possible solutions, and then discussing and analyzing each one together to pick the solution they felt was best. Better yet, it was rewarding to see this in multiple systems and areas throughout the project.

Ariel view of building w/ solar
Plumbing diagram
Illuminance view of conference room
Frame blueprint
Solar panel view on building
Structural blueprint
Structural Model
Blueprint for a building
Architectural model
Architectural model 2 buildings
Third floor blueprint of a building
First and Second floor blueprint of a building
Blueprint layout larger
Large landscape map and building blueprint
Blueprint layout larger
Blueprint layout larger 2
Zoning diagram
Zoning diagram and view
First floor plan of Lawrence Technical University