College, SEI, corporate partnership benefits all
April 25, 2017   //   By:   //   Real-world Learning

Phoenix Contact recently gave the robotics and machine intelligence (RMI) lab at Elizabethtown College more than $80,000 of electronic automation equipment.

And this isn’t the first time the Dauphin County, Pennsylvania-producer of industrial connection and automation technology, electronic Interface systems and surge protection, gifted E-town with technology, said Joe Wunderlich, associate professor of engineering and computer science and coordinator of the College’s computer engineering program.

Over Wunderlich’s 12-year collaboration with Phoenix Contact, the College has received “several hundred thousand dollars of equipment,” he said. Those donations included items used for three of the College’s internationally competing “Wunderbot” autonomous mobile robots.

In addition to Wunderlich’s connection to Phoenix Contact, an additional relationship recently developed between Phoenix Contact President Jack Nehlig and Elizabethtown College President Carl Strikwerda.

The prototype went into manufacturing; that’s real-world learning.”

The most recent equipment donation will be integrated into the RMI lab for use on future student projects and in support of courses Wunderlich teaches in computer engineering, computer science, robotics and machine intelligence, the professor said, adding that the computers also might be used in architecture courses. “This kind of equipment is critical to maintaining our ABET accreditation of our computer engineering program.”

ABET accredits college and university programs in the disciplines of applied science, computing, engineering and engineering technology at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. “Having ABET accredited engineering in a high-quality liberal arts college gives our institution a special distinction,” said Wunderlich, who has been with the College since 1999.

Last year, in cooperation with the Business Department, E-town College held an automated locking mechanism competition with computer engineering, computer science and business students as competitors. They used equipment donated from Phoenix Contact. Three faculty members and three investment bankers judged the contest, which netted the first-, second- and third-place winners $800 in awards.

In addition, the College’s RMI lab, also called the Design and Technology Transfer Studio, has utilized Phoenix Contact-donated equipment in projects involving E-town’s Social Enterprise Institute (SEI). Three years ago, a contest took place to design a wellness trailer to benefit truckers. Awards of almost $6,000 were given to the top three winners of this multidisciplinary student contest judged by outside professionals, investors and E-town faculty members. This “Mobile Wellness Center” needed to hold psychological counseling, ministry and primary health care services. “The prototype (from the contest winner) went into manufacturing,” said Wunderlich. “That’s real-world learning.”

Though a decision has yet to be made on how the new equipment will be utilized, there is a good chance it will benefit SEI projects, said Wunderlich. The College also is investigating using the equipment for outreach projects at Masonic Homes, located in Elizabethtown, and in nearby high schools that compete in Phoenix Contact Regional and National competitions, which Wunderlich judges.

The precise use of the equipment will be determined this summer by two international students. Nathan Copros, a rising senior computer engineering major from France, and Daniel Esteves, a rising senior industrial engineering major from Brazil, will be supervised by Wunderlich this summer via an E-town SCARP grant. Esteves, Wunderlich said, has previous experience with electronics and mechatronics in Brazil, as well as serving as Wunderlich’s teaching and research assistant over the past year.

“We’ll take the stuff out, spread it out, inventory it and decide how to use it,” he said.

Not only has the partnership with Phoenix Contact been of benefit to the students via state-of-the-art equipment donation, representatives from the organization regularly visit classes at the College to guest lecture and give free training. In exchange, Wunderlich integrates their technology into his courses, and participates in the Phoenix Contact “Edunet” – a consortium of several dozen international Universities which share innovations using Phoenix Contact equipment.

Thus far, more than a dozen E-town students have served internships at Phoenix Contact, Wunderlich said, and “we have had many of our E-town grads hired by this multinational corporation.”

About the Author :

Rebecca Easton is a junior at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. She is currently studying English with a concentration in professional writing, and is pursuing a double minor in communications and business administration. Her primary interests in these fields include journalistic writing, copy editing and marketing. She currently works for the Elizabethtown College Center for Student Success as a writing tutor. She also works for the Office of Marketing and Communications.