September 8, 2021

Need help with a project? UW Tacoma engineering students may be able to help

TAKE ACTION: If you have a project that would benefit from a team of UW Tacoma senior engineering students, act now. Proposals are being accepted through mid-September.

If your business, organization or agency has a project but you don’t have the resources, budget or bandwidth to tackle it, engineering students from the University of Washington Tacoma School of Engineering and Technology (SET) may be your solution.

Part of SET’s rigorous curriculum includes senior projects, a yearlong capstone that takes students through the lifecycle of a project. Projects are proposed or presented by companies, agencies, research labs/institutions, organizations, and even UW Tacoma faculty who have their own research labs or agendas. Over three quarters, teams gather requirements, come up with a design, create a prototype, then build and validate it.

Currently, senior projects are being completed by Computer and Electrical Engineering students. With the addition of the university’s Civil and Mechanical Engineering programs, more seniors are on the horizon.

Depending on the size of the project, each team is made up of three to five students. The students self-select their projects and self-organize their teams. “It’s part of breaking out of being told what to do,” said Matt Tolentino, SET assistant professor and research associate for the UW Tacoma Center for Data Science. “This is essentially the last time they’ll be able to choose their team. Next time, they won’t be able to choose their co-workers.”

Tolentino’s own startup has benefited from student partnerships. Namatad, a UW Tacoma spinout, makes monitoring equipment for the military and first responders. The company’s first employee was a member of a SET student team, and an engineering student was hired this year after spending a year working with another hardware company.

Soup to nuts

“We try to give students real-life experience that nearly replicates first-job experience,” Tolentino said. “We’re not just telling them to go do a project. We’re saying, ‘Here’s the problem. Figure out what it means, translate it to engineering requirements, propose some solutions and build it.’ It’s experience students probably won’t have until they spend three or four years on the job.”

Students take on projects of all scopes and sizes, from substantial projects proposed by Boeing, Intel and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Bremerton, to smaller problems posed by solution-seeking startups. For instance, past senior-project teams helped embed artificial intelligence into a light switch and developed a prototype for a smart wheel chair. Last year, two student teams worked with RAIN Incubator, a Tacoma-based nonprofit collaborative biotech and medical incubator, to help build a device used for automated fecal samplers to track COVID-19 in the Tacoma sewer system. A finished product is now on display at RAIN.

Submit your project now

If a company, organization or agency has a project they’d like help with, Tolentino makes it easy to connect with a student team. “There’s no formal submission process,” he said. “Send me an email, give me a call or send up smoke signals. There are a wealth of students available to help, and I’m ready to connect them.”

If you have a project, or you have questions about the UW Tacoma senior project program, contact Matt Tolentino at [email protected] or 360.951.8607.

Check out videos of past SET student senior projects on the UW Tacoma website.


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