Freshman engineering program supports Detroit community

Freshmen in the Engineering Graphics & Design Fall 2023 course at Detroit Mercy got a chance to get out into Detroit’s community this semester and get some hands-on experience. 

Prof. Alan Hoback, who is the professor of the course, said, “Students of this class are involved in projects to reduce energy use. We have worked with non-profit organizations, such as churches that operate warming centers for homeless, or run schools. Most small non-profit organizations are not experts in reducing energy use, and dedicate their resources to helping their target group, so experienced advice is useful to them.”

One such project in Fall 2023 involves collaborating with the Detroit Underground Railroad Museum to conduct an infrastructure audit aimed at reducing energy use and improving the overall efficiency of the facility. Students had a chance to explore the significance of this community engagement initiative, the role of the students and the diverse range of potential improvements that could be made. 

The project's objective is to assist non-profit organizations, like the Detroit Underground Railroad Museum, in reducing their energy consumption. Many non-profit organizations lack the expertise and resources required to implement energy-efficient solutions. By partnering with these organizations, Detroit Mercy freshmen engineering students provide valuable assistance and expertise to help them achieve their goals. In doing so, they contribute to the overall sustainability and well-being of the community. 

The students involved in the project begin by meeting with the client and touring the facilities of the Detroit Underground Railroad Museum. This initial interaction allows them to gain a comprehensive understanding of the existing infrastructure and identify areas for potential improvement. 

Through inspections and data collection, they analyze the energy systems, heating, ventilation, lighting, drainage, safety systems and architectural components of the museum. Armed with the collected data, the students proceed to perform engineering design for various projects. These projects may include the replacement or modification of heating systems, installation of supplementary heating systems, improvements in insulation, reduction of infiltration through enclosure enhancements, upgrading lighting fixtures for energy efficiency, enhancing ventilation systems for better air quality, optimizing drainage systems and addressing large appliance usage. 

Additionally, they ensure the safety of the architectural components and propose repairs, if necessary. The culmination of their efforts is the presentation of a comprehensive proposal to the client. This proposal outlines the suggested improvements, the potential energy savings and the estimated costs associated with each project. 

The students employ their technical skills and knowledge gained through their coursework to create viable and sustainable solutions that align with the museum's objectives. 

Once the proposal is accepted, the students move forward with the implementation phase. They organize the construction of large-scale projects, liaise with contractors and oversee the execution of the proposed improvements. This hands-on experience allows them to develop project management skills and gain practical knowledge of construction processes, further enhancing their engineering education. 

The collaboration with the Detroit Underground Railroad Museum exemplifies the importance of community engagement and the application of engineering knowledge to address real-world challenges. By focusing on reducing energy consumption and improving infrastructure, the students contribute to the sustainability and efficiency of the museum while simultaneously honing their skills. 

This project serves as a testament to the university's commitment to fostering a sense of social responsibility and preparing its students to make a positive impact on the communities they serve.