At many universities, degree seeking students are able to participate in a hands-on project in their field of study known as a Capstone Project. These programs allow students to use what they have learned in the classroom in an actual working environment, exposing them to what their future career may entail. At Western Carolina University (WCU) in Cullowhee, NC, electrical technology and electrical engineering students have been working to repair an incorrectly installed hydroelectric power system.
In 2007, Randy Collins, Director of County Extension for Graham County, received a grant from the Tobacco Trust Fund for $40,000 to put toward the overhaul of this hydroelectric power facility. The purpose of installing a hydroelectric power system on the trout farm was to showcase to other trout farms in the area how this facility will significantly decrease energy costs. After the facility was completed, it became apparent that the company who originally installed this system did not have the knowledge to install it correctly. Years later, Collins became associated with Lynn Sprague, Executive Director of Southwestern NC RC&D Council. Between the two of them, they decided that it would be a great opportunity to turn it into a Capstone Project for WCU students. “We figured that the project would last about two to three years,” said Collins. “It was the perfect opportunity for students that are going into this type of career to see what their future jobs may entail.”
Each semester, WCU sends no more than four students from the Capstone class to work on the project. Under the instruction of Dr. Pat Gardener, Director of the WCU Rapid Center, and Bora Karayaka, mentor for the Electrical Engineering Department, students visit the site every week to either collect data or fix various mechanical and electrical issues. Connor McIntyre, Blake Thomas, Rayyan Algassam, and Saleh Almuhamidh made up this semester’s team of students that worked diligently from August until December on this project. “I’ve always been interested in renewable energy,” said McIntyre. “By working on this project, it has allowed me to not only put what I have learned in the classroom to the test, but has also let me have an inside look into what my future career may be.”
This project is expected to be completed by spring 2018, and would not have been possible without the help of WCU’s Capstone students, Graham County Cooperative Extension, and Southwestern NC RC&D Council.