University of Nebraska–Lincoln

NCEES Engineering Education Award $25,000 winner

Charles W. Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction

Project: Tarrant County College Student Success Center


Students: Jahad Al Makdami, Isabel Anderson, Tori Anderson, Bryce Bierman, Izzy Brown, Jack Burns, David Clay, Jackson Cordell, Andrew Crist, Matt DeCock, Addie, Devney, Alex Dukart, Alec Eiseman, Calvin Hehnke, Jenna Irwin, Ish Khanna, Caleb Krouse, Nick Lynn, Zach Nannen, Joshua Palakapilly, Jenna Reynard, Emily Ritzdorf, Ben Schnatz, Ethan Schott, Jacob Sorensen, Grace Stirling, Trever Ward, Makenna Widholm, and Mariah Yagow

Faculty: Clarence Waters, Todd Feldman, and Doug Nelsen

Professional Engineers: Rich Anderson, Dave Bailey, Tonia Beck (Kinish), Adam Brumbaugh, John Bynum, Katie Cannia, Shane Cherney, Brandon Claassen, Alex Crownover, Kelley Clouse, Darren Dageforde, Dan Dellovechio, Josh Eiden, Kelby Ewert, Marissa Gigantelli, Kevin Hupf, Dmitri Lamianski, Luke Leung, Adam MacKenzie, Ben MacKenzie, David Manley, Lindsay Marion, Erik Miller-Klein, Tim Morrison, Michael Naccarato, Dick Netley, Danielle Passaglia, Jenn Puhlman, Jake Pulfer, Eric Reid, Andrew Reinke, Brandon Rich, Ben Ries, Cary Schroeder, Alex Skillman, Tony Staub, Adam Steinbach, Shawn Stockwell, Wyatt Suddarth, Jeff Thiele, Nate Timm, Pete Uhing, Kevin Wenninghoff, Steve Vo, James Wingert, and Jake Zach

Additional participants: Steph Ahrens, EI; Marijo Bosiljevac, EI; Jacob Bullock, EI; Nate German, EI; Jessica Lee, EI; David Repair, EI; Ben Stodola, EI; Brendan Walsh, EI; Ben Williams, EI; and Damali Kounthapanya

The Charles W. Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction is proud to have won the NCEES Engineering Education Award grand prize for collaboration between students and professional engineers for the third time (2016, 2019, and 2022). A unit of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) College of Engineering, Nebraska Architectural Engineering (AE) is the only program in all engineering to have won the NCEES grand prize more than once. Nebraska AE at the Durham School greatly values the mutually beneficial relationships that we have with professional engineers and are always looking to create more industry partnerships.

Nebraska AE regularly wins student competitions through the Architectural Engineering InstituteASHRAE, and IES and has had the American Council for Engineering Companies (ACEC) Scholar of the Year in 2018, 2020, and 2021.

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Clarence E. Waters, Ph.D., P.E., FAEI, is the Aaron Douglas Professor of Architectural Engineering in the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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

In addition to allowing students to understand the constraints and requirements of the project stakeholders, working on a real-world project also gives the students the opportunity to work alongside potential future employers and colleagues. These experiences help the students by giving them the valuable resources of on-the-job training and networking.

How do you decide which projects to work on?

Nebraska Architectural Engineering (AE) Interdisciplinary Team Design Project (AREN 8030-8040) participates in the Architectural Engineering Institute’s International Student Design Competition (AEI-ISDC). The project selected for the competition is used as the basis every year for the course. The AEI-ISDC is the most highly regarded student design competition in AE and continues to raise the bar for quality, depth, and completeness of the student submissions and presentations. Requiring the design and integration of the mechanical, electrical, and structural systems in the building, the project varies from year to year. Past projects have included a wide range of building types with different settings, uses, and user interface needs. Past NCEES Engineering Education Award grand prize winning projects have included a high-rise building in Boston (2016), a Center for Musical Arts (2019), and a campus Student Success Center (2022), providing new challenges and opportunities for industry involvement and student innovation.

How did this project prepare students for professional practice?

The majority of Nebraska AE alumni will be designing, specifying, and constructing mechanical, electrical, and structural systems for buildings and working in teams throughout their careers. Nebraska AE Interdisciplinary Team Design Project delivers the students these experiences through mentorship and evaluation from a large pool of industry professionals across the AE disciplines. The students gain valuable practical insight before entering the workforce, and as the project develops, so do professional-level relationships, which makes them competitive candidates for employment. The course content and its industry immersion provide excellent preparation for professional practice.

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

Industry relations are critical to The Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction, yet mutually beneficial to all stakeholders. Our students gain from the practical experience of the professionals, the professionals gain a deeper understanding of their practice from student questions, and the involved firms gain from early exposure to talented students. Our industry partners mentor and evaluate our students in addition to partnering on research opportunities. In return, The Durham School provides an excellent pool of interns and graduates, as well as research that can transform their business practices. I highly encourage all engineering programs to develop these strong, mutual-benefit relationships.

Isabel Anderson was a Master of Architectural Engineering student during this two-semester class and the project leader for one of the three teams. She is now a UNL MAE graduate and employed by Professional Engineering Consultants as an electrical design engineer.

 What did you like best about participating in this project?

With a project of this scale and the design challenges associated with the project scope, we had to be very efficient when assigning tasks to each team member. While we were all focused on certain individual tasks, our designs ultimately had to be evaluated by each discipline to determine the feasibility and constructability of some intricate pieces of the buildings systems. I truly enjoyed the conversations that my team had while we learned and grew as engineers together. If someone needed help understanding the “why” behind our design, anyone on the team that could was willing to step in and help.

What did you learn?

The biggest thing that this project taught me was how to collaborate effectively. I was the team’s project manager, and that sometimes meant that my role was not to be just an engineer, but a problem solver and a communicator. I learned that being present and focused is important but taking the time each day to ask team members how everything else was going in their lives was just as important. This helped me learn a lot about myself and what I someday want my career to look like as an electrical engineer.

How did the participation of professional engineers improve the experience?

Sometimes the hardest part of any project is knowing where to start. With the help from many of the professional engineers, we (students) were able to work through the initial phase where the tasks seemed overwhelming and gain focus to make significant progress on our designs. They helped us work through the complexities of the project while pushing us to learn as much as we could before we came to them with our questions. They were there with us through every step of the design process.

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

Many of the professional engineers that helped us through this project graduated from the UNL Architectural Engineering program. The program relies on the feedback and guidance from these engineers. While working with us during this project, the engineers are better able to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the program, and then give the feedback so this program can continue to succeed.

Steve Vo, P.E., is Principal and Electrical Division Manager at Professional Engineering Consultants in Wichita, Kansas.

Why did you get involved with the project?

I have had the fortune to be involved in this UNL program for several years now and have volunteered as an evaluator in past years and this year as a mentor. I got involved at UNL itself because of the strong culture of the program, and I really wanted to help mentor students as they grow into this industry.

How did you assist the students in the project?

We had regular (weekly) scheduled meetings during which we discussed next steps on the project, challenges, or questions that may have been brought up during the week, think through the design from the different standpoints of the peer or evaluator questions, and so on. Aside from that, we had individual ad hoc meetings as needed. During these conversations (both the scheduled and ad hoc), I walked through items with the students and asked questions to help them understand where to come from. In some instances, for example, I gave them an idea of where the comment or question stemmed from and how they could communicate their designs and revisions through presentations or even just verbally to help covey the design intent.

What did you learn from working with the students?

This program has such an abundance of driven individuals! It was amazing to see tasks that we outlined in meetings or design concepts that we discussed during one meeting be incorporated into the project by the next meeting, and they had done the research and leg work to understand what was going on.

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

There is no one right answer. But the best answer that I came up with was that it had to be based on codes, calculations, and engineering judgments to meet the needs and requirements of the project parameters. A lot of this comes from asking good, delving questions. As I told them, there are a lot of good engineers out there, but great consultants ask great questions.