May 17, 2017 10:45AM
They needed it for a grade. They needed it to graduate.
But for a small group of Pittsburg State technology students, their senior project was about more than just earning their degrees. It was a transformational experience that will have a significant impact on society for years to come.
Beginning in August of last year, six Manufacturing Engineering Technology and Mechanical Engineering Technology students began working with Cessna to design and develop a new door-check fixture that would be used to check the curvature of the pre-fabricated door of a Cessna jet.
The students involved in the project were Chance Atchison, Princeton, Kan.; Austin Duncan, Mulvane, Kan.; Dakota Gray, Grove, Okla.; Rachel Meyer, Spring Hill, Kan.; Steven Redlin, Ottawa, Kan.; and Jackson Sanor, Overland Park, Kan. All six were among the more than 1,200 graduates at last weekend’s commencement ceremonies.
The project began to come about nearly two years ago after University Professor Phil McNew met with professionals from Cessna’s aircraft facility in Independence.
“Starting back during the fall 2015 career fair, I was talking with staff from the Cessna facility about doing a project like this,” McNew said. “I thought it would be a tremendous learning experience for our students, while also being a chance for them to make a true, real-world difference.”
The students worked closely with Cessna engineering professionals during the fall and spring semesters, including making nearly 10 trips to the Independence facility during the year. Early in May, the students presented their final product and made a presentation to the Cessna team.
The students said it was one of the best experiences of their time at PSU.
“It was actually very cool to work on a project that you knew would be used in the real world,” Sanor said. “A lot of times in school, we work on projects that are really just for the education and a grade. But this project had real-world implications, and that was a great challenge.”
While it was technically a senior project, Meyer said the students felt more like professionals than students.
“We worked so closely with Cessna, it almost felt like an internship or sometimes like we were part of their team,” she said. “It certainly wasn’t a typical class project. This experience will prove to be incredibly beneficial for our future careers.”
Along with the Cessna team, the students worked closely with manufacturing professionals in Kansas to help develop the parts.
“Working with so many different people during this project really helped us learn the value of communication and teamwork,” Gray said. “On something as important as this, you have to work together and all be on the same page. That was a valuable experience, for sure.”
Atchison, who was one of the key leaders of the project, said the experience only fueled his passion for the engineering technology world.
“This project was incredibly rewarding on many levels,” he said. “To know we made a real difference in the world, it helps us see the importance of this type of knowledge base and skill.
“We’re all very lucky to have gone to a school that prepares you for the real world,” he said. “The hands-on learning you get at Pitt State is second-to-none. We probably couldn’t have had this type of educational experience anywhere else.”