By Alivia Nuzzo
Nine Russ College of Engineering and Technology students depart Friday to compete in the annual WERC Competition at New Mexico State University for cash awards of up to $2,500 and -- perhaps more importantly -- real-world experience and networking opportunities with sought-after employers.
An international design contest, WERC (formerly the Waste-management Education and Research Consortium) was created by the U.S. Department of Energy to give college students hands-on engineering experience. Since 1991, it has encouraged students around the globe to tackle problems faced by government, industry and end users.
Two Russ College teams will compete in separate problems against an unprecedented number of contending schools, said Dan Gulino, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and one of the students' advisers.
"While problems created by professors challenge students' skills, the contest challenges students with real-world problems, forcing them to be solid in their knowledge," he said.
The students compete for awards, recognition, travel opportunities and cash prizes. They must complete a 25-page research paper, oral presentation, poster presentation, safety summary and flow sheet, and a bench-scale model.
According to Tyler Morgan, a Russ College team captain, Ohio University students faced an extra challenge because the majority of competing universities follow a semester system, giving them longer to prepare. But the benefits are worth it.
"Each team member receives three credit hours," he said. "Still, we think the easiest part is going to be flying to New Mexico."
Morgan and his four teammates -- Cody Tuttle, Joe Maglich, Matt Wood and Dan Bratton -- are working to find a new technology to remove dissolved solids from ground water so it can be used for drinking, Morgan said. The three juniors and two seniors have been working on the project since fall quarter began.
In the fall and over the winter intersession, they developed a draft of the paper, which was submitted in March. Then they designed and constructed their bench-scale model and shipped it to New Mexico for the competition.
Team two has researched, developed and demonstrated innovative technologies that can improve commercial buildings' efficiency and reduce their environmental footprint.
Team members -- captain Leigh Ann Buzzard, Kristina Easley, Nick Grooms and Kendra Mitchell -- were charged with retrofitting a commercial office building in Phoenix to make it more environmental-friendly.
"Our research has led us to use an air exchanger that will take outside air and lower its temperature before it is sent to the air conditioning unit, therefore reducing the energy used to cool the air," Buzzard said.
Darin Ridgway, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, who also is advising the students, said the competition offers a unique opportunity. "These are real and difficult engineering problems," he said.
University funds and donations -- including support from the Provost's Undergraduate Research Fund -- will cover most of the participants' costs. This year, one student received a $500 donation from the company for which she had completed a cooperative education experience.
Russ College students first entered the competition nearly 10 years ago and have competed all but one year since. About 20 have interviewed with prospective employers at the competition, and about half have been offered jobs, Gulino said.
To speak with a media representative regarding this story, please contact Colleen Carow, director of external relations for the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, at 740-593-1488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.