District team assists USMA cadets with Engineering Design Capstone Projects
April 3, 2013
WINCHESTER, Va. - A team of Middle East District engineers had the opportunity to share feedback with U.S. Military Academy cadets during review of their engineer design capstone projects March 5.
Each year, hundreds of cadets from all academic departments participate in Projects Day by presenting a design or thesis. The cadets demonstrate their ability to integrate academic and military knowledge and skills into their projects. The engineer capstone designs, the result of months of small team interaction and planning, were presented as 35 percent complete, a standard point for design review.
The assigned scenario involves the cadets acting as an engineering firm answering an actual USACE solicitation, based on a Middle East District request for proposal to design and construct military facilities in Afghanistan. The faculty serves as the firm's leadership; external participants serve as partners. To compete for the contract, the fourth year West Point cadets formed four design teams, each developing design and construction plans.
During the formal review, each team had 30 minutes to present their designs followed by 25 minutes of interaction with professional engineers, who provided comments, questions, suggestions, advice and discussion with the cadets.
The district team, connected virtually via web conference, included Roger Vogler, chief of Engineering Division; Alan Zytowski, Technical Services Branch chief; Glenn Hordusky, environmental engineer; Ingrid Howard, geotechnical engineer, and Dave Rackmales, structural engineer.
Participating with the capstone projects has advantages for both the cadets and the district team.
"The benefit to the cadets is that MED designers provide reviews as both professional engineers and as a reality check," said Vogler. "Just because a facility can be designed a certain way doesn't mean it is suitable for Afghanistan.
"The benefit to our staff is less direct, but providing future engineer officers with the USACE perspective yields better informed customers in the future," Vogler said.
Those who interact with the Army Corps of Engineers on a regular basis learn that the civilian engineers are a crucial part of the Army Engineer team.
"A big part of that understanding comes from knowing that we civilians can provide expert advice and experience," said Rackmales. "Many of us, especially at the Middle East District, have deployed alongside Soldiers to various places including combat zones, have produced engineering products and have constructed projects that add to the U.S. mission.
"As a result of this capstone project experience, these future engineer officers may recognize that USACE civilians can be counted on as force multipliers when it comes to completing their missions," Rackmales said.
This was the first time the district has participated in this West Point event.
"We committed to support the USMA capstone project last October, after the chief of Engineering Division for Afghanistan District North asked if MED could assume the role his district had provided the last couple of years," said Vogler. "I expect to be able to support this effort most of the time in the future, although we will have to evaluate annually."
Zytowski, part of the Middle East District since April 2012 after serving a 12-year stint as Chief of Engineering Plans and Services Division at the Academy's Directorate of Public Works, has participated in this process several other times from West Point.
"This is an awesome opportunity to reach out and influence the development of young engineers who we may well be working with in the near the future," said Zytowski. "It's really neat to see the cadets move forward, applying what they've learned from textbooks and classrooms to real-world scenarios.
"When you consider that these cadets run fast and hard every day, working crazy schedules, it's all the more impressive," he said. "These cadets have little to no down time, unlike most at other universities. The cadets are up early in the morning for classes, physical training, sports, clubs, other activities, and military training - plus whatever duties or leadership responsibilities they have for the Corps of Cadets. This is all in addition to homework and studying for their classes. The cadets have to strictly juggle their priorities. When they get together in teams to work on projects such as this, they have to stay focused to produce effective products. Taking all that into account, the cadets did extremely well."
The importance of designing real world projects is essential for the cadets to turn what they've learned into practice.
"I am so impressed that the U.S. Military Academy has the capstone project for their engineering cadets," said Howard. "The project gives the students experience designing a real life project, using an actual request for proposal from USACE. This whole process emulates the Middle East District design submittal process."
"These students are seniors at West Point and will most likely go on to be commissioned 2nd Lieutenants after they graduate," said Rackmales. "At some point early in their professional careers they will engage the Army Corps of Engineers, so this is a head start for them concerning just such an engagement."
The district's participation also helps them to understand the government bidding and design process.
"Our reviewers provided cadets with good information to better their designs," said Howard. "We had input in areas where the cadets may lack experience based on the reviewer's knowledge and experience."
Thanking the professionals who provided input for each team, Maj. Cullen Jones, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the Military Academy, said, "You were phenomenal as a review board. The hard look and input you provide during these major submittals is invaluable in the development of these young engineers as they bridge principles into practice."
The cadets will incorporate the input received and continue to develop their submittals. The district intends to participate again in the final presentation of the capstone engineer designs on Project Day May 2.