E-Days 2023: Minnie Piffarerio on the importance of senior design projects
Interview by Russell Dickerson, April 18, 2023
As part of E-Days, Engineering Source sat down with Minnie Piffarerio, associate professor of practice and senior design advisor for the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, to talk about showcasing senior design projects at the event. Among her students’ projects is the CIP Ramskeller Brewery, which is interdisciplinary within engineering and also includes the College of Health and Human Sciences.
What is the Ramskeller Brewery project?
They’re working in collaboration with Jeff Callaway, director of CSU’s Fermentation Science and Technology Program, and that department, to design a system to help make part of the brewing process more automated.
Students are helping to automate the cleaning system for the fermentation process. Right now it’s a manual system, and our students are working on limiting the amount of operator interactions with the hazardous chemicals used in cleaning and sanitization.
When you look at the broad types of senior design projects in chemical and biological engineering, where are the similarities and differences?
Our class focuses on developing a product or a process, so that’s very similar for all of them. The difference is how we apply it. It’s in how we use the skill of developing a process or product to solve a problem related to chemical or biological systems. This semester we have projects in class that focus on energy, food and beverage, and biological systems such as stem cells. We also have projects that focus on improving industry, such as revising a current process or developing systems from the ground up.
Do you find there are a lot of students interested in carrying on these concepts into their careers or into their own projects?
I know that a lot of our students use these projects to explore their interests and areas of potential career. Our students are interested in exploring more within this area of study, that they’ve gotten to research through their senior design project. For example, with our Small-Scale Desalination project, there are students on this team that are interested in exploring careers around water and the environmental sector of chemical and biological engineering.
Do you find that the students and alums of the senior design program stick with similar paths in their careers? Or do they end up in other parts of engineering or even other careers?
It really depends on the student’s interest. What I find from alums is that they may branch out to different areas, maybe related to what they studied in senior design. Or they can branch off in a completely different direction.
Typically what I saw with our students from last year, and many of those that I graduated with, is that they tended to go in the direction that they worked on during senior design, at least in the beginning. Sometimes people stayed with it and sometimes people changed in completely different directions.
What would you tell juniors, sophomores, or first-year students so that they would look forward to senior design projects and the experience?
It’s a really exciting time. It’s a time to apply everything that they’ve learned and to learn about what to expect when working in the professional world. Being an engineer is not just sitting and calculating all day. We really focus on a holistic view delivering a solution that works not only technically, but sustainably and profitably.
The thing students need to remember is that it’s peaks and valleys. We’re not always on a peak with our senior design projects, sometimes we’re in a valley. But in those valleys there are opportunities for growth. So, the challenge there for our seniors is really to stick with it and find resources to navigate those valleys, and then walk back up to the peak where we’re able to grow ourselves. In this class, there’s so much opportunity to grow and develop in preparation for their lives as professionals.
Our students are provided with a lot of resources. This year we had about 80 people supporting the 60 students that attended our CBE senior design class. We feel fortunate that we’ve secured a lot of resources to help our students navigate and continue their growth through the latter part of their undergraduate career.