Senior civil engineering students present structural engineering designs

As part of the undergraduate curriculum for civil engineering at Texas A&M University, students are required to complete a senior capstone course that helps prepare students for engineering design practice in more than one area of civil engineering.Structural engineering students work with professional engineers on their capstone design projects.The capstone course for students specializing in Structural Engineering is CVEN 483: Analysis and Design of Structures. The course prepares students to analyze and design structural elements and systems according to the International Building Code and specific material codes, such as the ACI Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete and the AISC Manual of Steel Construction.During the first part of the semester, the course's lectures cover structural system functions, building layouts, structural foundations, serviceability issues, general member sizes and detailing, constructability, cost considerations, analytical modeling and design requirements per the International Building Code and the ASCE 7 loading (which includes snow, wind, dead, live, and earthquake loading criteria), and identifying types of load resisting structural systems for steel and concrete construction.Students spend the remainder of the semester working in teams on a structural engineering building and foundation design project similar to an assignment that might be given to an entry-level engineer. The project incorporates realistic constraints such as economic, safety, environmental and health. Students learn key points for their project during two one-hour lectures and work on their projects during a three-hour lab that meets once a week.Dr. Mary Beth Hueste, associate professor of structural engineering and CVEN 483 instructor for the spring '10 semester, said each student team is given a set of architectural drawings based on real world projects and must design the supporting structure, which "gives students an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the challenges of interpreting architectural plans and translating this information to an appropriate structural system."At the beginning of the semester, professional structural engineers from Walter P. Moore and Associates in Houston assist the instructor in defining the group projects based real building construction and realistic project constraints. Dennis Wittry '91, Rowdy Westbrook'03, and Kara Hartleib '99 have assisted in the capstone course as visiting professional engineers for about 10 years.Students participate in presentations and meetings over the Internet with the practicing engineers for additional feedback regarding their project before they present their completed work at the end of the semester.Kathleen Eck '10, a student in the Spring 2010 CVEN 483 course, said, "I enjoyed putting all the pieces from the different civil/structural engineering classes together for a real world project. Working with the engineers from Walter P. Moore was very valuable to learn about different structural systems, reasonable member sizes, and design difficulties."Another student in the Spring 2010 course, Jason Zidek '10, said, "The capstone design class was a great learning experience that taught us several valuable things. Our project gave us the opportunity to work as a team to apply what we have learned in other design classes and come up with a real structure. This, along with the opportunity to work with professional engineers gave us some insight as to what it will be like working as a structural engineer at the professional level."Dr. Peter Keating, associate professor of structural engineering and an instructor for the course, said, "What we do [as instructors] is get them set off in the correct direction, but there is still a lot of work that has to be done to finalize the design. You see the students actually extend their knowledge. They pick up new things and are able to apply them."At the course's conclusion, the students submit a final written report and make an oral presentation to that is open to faculty, interested students, and the visiting engineers. The engineers help in evaluating student presentations and technical reports, and provide comments on the practical issues of the student design projects.Wittry said, "We discuss the accuracy and practicality of their designs, ways that the design could be improved and how it might be done in practice. One of the goals is for the presentations to be a learning experience for the entire class, so some of the things we ask the teams to present are specifically intended to demonstrate some of the unique challenges or conditions of that assignment.""Ultimately, the capstone experience will help them to hit the ground running when they graduate," Hueste said.