UC San Diego to Expand ?Teams in Engineering Service? Program

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TIES faculty, community partners and students including electrical engineer Yan Zheng (above) talk about the program and its benefits. [video]Length: 6:20

San Diego, CA, February 10, 2005 -- The University of California, San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering is recruiting new students, community partners and corporate sponsors for its innovative Teams in Engineering Service (TIES) program, the first of its kind in San Diego.  Currently over 40 students are working on team projects for two non-profit organizations. "We aim to double the number of students enrolled in the program to roughly 100 by next fall, and we hope to boost enrollment eventually to 200 students," said Jacobs School associate dean Jeanne Ferrante, who led the effort to create the TIES program and engineering course. "To accommodate the increased enrollment, we hope to bring in two or three additional community organizations to participate in the program."

Launched last fall, TIES brings together multi-disciplinary teams of undergraduate students who design, build and deploy technology-based solutions for community partners. The non-profits get a multidisciplinary team of tech-savvy young engineers and scientists to work on projects the agencies could otherwise not afford, and the students get academic credit and a crash course in team engineering and customer-driven research in a real-world environment.

At St. Paul's Senior Homes & Services, students are developing new communications systems for nurses, and 'smart furnishings' with sensors to monitor the health of senior residents. "We have been delighted with the fresh ideas and hard work these students are bringing to the table in such a short time," said St. Paul's CEO Cheryl Wilson. "I think some of these solutions will benefit the long-term care field as a whole."

For Lakeside's River Park Conservancy, which is reclaiming land along the San Diego River for an ecological preserve and river park, students were tasked with coming up with an environmental monitoring system, a design for an equestrian bridge, and visitor-information kiosks. "We were more than pleased with the kinds of ideas and products they came up with during the last quarter," said Robin Rierdon, project manager of the non-profit. "They were innovative, they were thoughtful, and they were far more imaginative than we are about how to use technology for river restoration."

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TIES students Chris Lee (left) and Robert Lee discuss how to automate the 24-hour nursing log with St. Paul's Senior Homes nursing supervisor Greg Tompkins (center)

Added Lakeside's executive director, Deborah Jones: "Bringing the TIES students in with their research skills to help us in our short and longer-term projects has been great."

Roughly two dozen UCSD students - most, but not all, from engineering - split into three teams to work with the Lakeside group. Electrical engineering senior Yan Zheng leads the environmental monitoring team, which is developing and deploying a network of remote, automated sensors to monitor air, ground and water quality. "What we plan to do is build a small sensor with wireless capability," said Zheng. "It will float either on top of the water or near the bottom and then send the data to the local kiosks, and from there to a computing center that will process the raw data."

Other students have proposed a design for the kiosks dubbed the Infostream 3000, which would be linked wirelessly to the Internet and feature customizable, interactive information, graphics and video that can be easily updated and uploaded.

Separately, a team of mostly structural engineering students is doing initial design on an equestrian and pedestrian bridge to be built over Highway 67, which bi-sects the two sides of the river park. The bridge team gets support its faculty advisor, Structural Engineering professor Chia-Ming Uang, as well as from professionals who volunteer their time on the TIES project, including artist James Hubble and engineer Simon Wong. "They really want to learn and be creative but also to do it on a very pragmatic project," said the president of Simon Wong Engineering, who also sits on the board of directors of the Jacobs School's new Camp Elliott earthquake engineering facility. "This project and this course will really help them a lot to become better engineers."

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(L) Lakeside project manager Deborah Jones with senior Yan Zheng, and (R) bridge design
team members consult with artist Jim Hubble and Lakeside chairman Michael Beck

The partnership with St. Paul's Senior Homes & Services -- one of San Diego's largest not-for-profit groups offering senior housing and medical care - evolved into two distinct teams. The smart-furnishings group aims to deploy technologies in St. Paul's residence for seniors to enhance their quality of life and let nurses keep track of them better by using motion sensors and wearable devices including, possibly, radio-frequency ID tags. Simultaneously, a "digital nursing" team split into two groups: the observation group, which interviews nurses about how they do their job; and the software group, which is customizing a wireless device and data entry system that will allow nurses and other staff to access information and communicate with each other more efficiently.

Nurses will beta-test new applications as they are developed. "One concept of our development process is to ensure the involvement of the nurses," said computer-science senior Robert Lee. "We feel that if we can develop a system that can help them do their job better and make their job easier, then they will buy into it."

UCSD's community partners are some of the biggest boosters of the TIES students, and the program in general. "People who've been in the industry for twenty years come up with variations on the same ideas, but from what I have seen, the students are coming up with fresh ideas that we just never thought about," said Vernon Roberson, administrator of St. Paul's Villa. "I've seen in these young men and ladies a real willingness to get to know the seniors and family members, and to talk to our staff and to understand what our needs are."

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Computer science senior Robert Lee (right) and fellow team members present findings to St. Paul's on digital nursing.

With its focus on teamwork, the TIES program brings with it a new perspective for many of the students. "For many of these students," said Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Clark Guest, one of the faculty advisors at St. Paul's, "it's the first time that they have worked side-by-side with a student from a different engineering department." Added CSE senior Chris Lee: "It's a really important experience for industry, where everything is team-based."

Students also appreciate that their teamwork is helping good causes. Neuroscience sophomore Kunal Agrawal is one of the students who also appreciate that the projects benefit community organization. "You get to not only design a product, but also to see it become implemented," said Agrawal. "Technology can really help the people who live here [at St. Paul's]."

Even as the TIES program seeks to expand its roster of community partners, the program will continue to work closely with its first two non-profit groups. "Once we have formed a relationship with a client such as St. Paul's," said faculty advisor Guest, "we intend for that relationship to go on for a very long time."

Added Michael Beck, chairman of Lakeside's River Park Conservancy: "We could have a ten-year relationship with the UCSD TIES program and still be incredibly productive and meaningful with what we have on our plate."

The TIES program is part of the national Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS), now active at 15 universities nationwide. It received seed funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), with additional support coming from the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, San Diego Supercomputer Center and AT&T Foundation.

Related Links
Teams in Engineering Service
Lakeside’s River Park Conservancy 
St. Paul’s Senior Homes & Services 
California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology 
San Diego Supercomputer Center
AT&T Foundation 
EPICS Program  
National Science Foundation 

 

Media Contacts Doug Ramsey, (858) 822-5825, dramsey@ucsd.edu