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Boeing execs review UTEP student projects

UTEP faculty and Boeing execs review UTEP student presentations.
Photo courtesy of El Paso Inc.
UTEP faculty and Boeing execs
review UTEP student presentations.
Engineering students at the University of Texas at El Paso made presentations to Boeing executives last week for projects that may be used on the International Space Station.

“We were real interested in UTEP because it’s a very diverse, Hispanic-serving institution,” said Mark Ortiz, a Boeing manager who works on the space station.

For more than a year, Boeing and UTEP have been working together to provide more hands-on projects for engineering students. The Boeing execs were in town to review the students’ progress.

“UTEP has an established office that is dedicated to supporting this type of business, where they have a specific team that’s looking for opportunities and ready to work with Boeing,” said Debbie Sharp, a Boeing senior manger who also works on the space station.

Three years ago, Boeing and UTEP collaborated on a successful software project that built a good relationships between the two.

“That’s why I’m back, because we were very successful with that first set of work,” said Sharp.

Cesar Carrasco, an assistant professor and director of the UTEP’s Future Aerospace and Technology, or FAST, Center, said that students highly value the experience they gain from these projects, even though they do not receive academic credit.

When they graduate, they are able to compete for employment at places like Boeing and NASA.

“The fact that students are involved in real-life industry projects gives them a definite advantage over other graduating students,” said Carrasco.

Sharp said they get work experience that can’t be found in a classroom.

“I think it really brings it to life for them, to actually see something being used,” Sharp said. “When you’re a college student, you’re doing all these different equations and things, and it’s like ‘how am I ever going to use this in my real life?’”

Some of the projects students presented to Boeing were an Electrical Power System Orbit Prediction, or EPSOP, a software project for the space station’s electrical power system.

Students are also working on Gait Analysis, developing a treadmill here on earth that simulates walking or running on a treadmill in a zero environment.

“It’s the practical application of their engineering studies,” said Ortiz. “And we’re providing sustaining engineering for the International Space Station that really covers the gamut of every engineering discipline.”

In addition to the engineering, students also experience what it’s like to work for a major aerospace firm.

“They get to try us out, we get to try them out,” said Sharp.

Throughout the projects, Boeing engineers are on hand to guide the students.

“Running analysis, looking at telemetry from the International Space Station, building models, building tools to help us do our job in sustaining the International Space Station,” are some of the things they do, said Ortiz.

Sharp and Ortiz said they were impressed with the students’ progress so far, and how the students not only understood the intricate details of their individual projects but the bigger picture, as well.

“Their project ends up going into something much bigger, when you talk about the International Space Station. So I think that helps the students appreciate how their product is tying into everything,” said Sharp.

Projects are designed for students, but the engineering faculty also benefits.

“They had industry background from their time in engineering school and prior to becoming a professor, so it tends to bring them back into the realm of considering what a business like the Boeing Company needs to think about when executing this kind of work,” said Ortiz.

Faculty members recommend students for the special projects. Participants are usually juniors and seniors but Boeing will accept freshmen and sophomores who meet their requirements.

“UTEP’s primary role is to prepare students that will have the skills that will make them successful when they enter the workforce,” said Carrasco.

– Frances Sanchez

El Paso Inc. Citing Internet Resources. [Online], August 3, 2008.