Everyone knows that real-world experience is a great test of academic learning, but for CEE students, the application of skills on public infrastructure projects comes with high stakes for the community as well. Thanks to the Smart Communities Initiative (SCI), which helps connect university students with community projects, twelve students in the McMinn Rails-to-Trails CEE Senior Design group are getting hands-on experience while also providing an important benefit for the City of Athens and its citizens.
Senior Design, which students must take in the final semester of their undergraduate studies, is intended to provide a comprehensive experience for CEE students to demonstrate all the knowledge acquired throughout their undergraduate curriculum. This service-based course makes every effort to assign students to actual projects that address actual needs of local communities.
This group’s semester-long project is to design a trailhead parking lot, restroom, and picnic area for a pedestrian and running course, which is part of a Rails-to-Trails project to renovate an old CSX line into public recreation space. Last semester, a different Senior Design group helped make improvements to the actual path, and now this team is wrapping up the project.
One student on the team, Austin Martin, said he enjoyed working on his first hands-on project as an undergrad. “It’s a unique opportunity to do soil sample tests and surveys that are for an actual project, not just for a grade,” he says. “The tangible aspect of this project is great.”
The City of Athens has also asked the team to look for an engineering solution for one of the main roads leading to the trail. The roadway is narrow and only one lane yet is off the beaten path enough that pedestrians like to walk on it. However, cars often drive down this road at unsafe speeds, which prompted the group to recommend lower speed limits and a series of speed bumps.
Joe Neuzil, another student on the team, says that it’s interesting working with engineering students from across the CEE disciplines on this project. “You have to develop trust that others on the team from different disciplines within CEE know what they are doing and can come up with a cohesive plan together,” he says. “This process has taught me a lot about the other aspects of civil engineering.”
Senior Design instructor, Dr. Jenny Retherford, says that over the past two years all of the projects have had financial support. “While we do not hire out our services, each project is part of a contract in some form or another,” she says. “We do not stamp drawings, but the work is such that projects can move from preliminary planning stages towards actual construction.”
Once this group’s project is complete, the City of Athens will move to the construction phase. City officials hope the five-mile trail, which is just one mile outside of downtown Athens, can become a destination site. “Being able to work with the UT engineering students has been very beneficial to the City of Athens,” says Austin Fesmire, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Athens. “In return for allowing the students to work on actual projects and for providing real world advice, Athens has been able to move projects forward and leverage the UT partnership when working with other agencies.”
Members of the Spring 2016 Senior Design team who will graduate this May include Joseph Neuzil (team leader), Austin Martin (team leader), Brad Kreceman, Jacob Lampley, James Lawson, Jeff Mason, Matt McClain, Brian Peek, Logan Ross, Tyler Short, Ryan Signorin, and Luke Turner. The Fall 2015 Senior Design team included Brandon Whetsel (team leader), Sam Cappleman (team leader), Dylan Bullock, Ryan Cullen, Eric Davis, Johnson Luma, Jonathon Woolsey, Brandon Worley.