Gaining hands-on engineering experience

Students in Associate Professor of Physics Jason Engbrecht’s Engineering Design Practicum — from left, Haakon Pedersen ’18, Brynna Freitag ’18, and Kieran Berton ’18 — work on their prototypes in Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences.

This January, St. Olaf College students gained hands-on experience in research and engineering through a collaboration with two Minnesota-based companies committed to creating innovative products.

Students in Associate Professor of Physics Jason Engbrecht’s Engineering Design Practicum worked on prototypes for Medtronic, one of the world’s largest medical equipment development companies, and SageGlass, a global leader in designing and producing electronically tintable, energy-efficient glass.

“The class partners student groups with companies to solve engineering challenges they are facing. It helps the students understand the real-world importance and gives them experience working with professionals.”

The class, in coordination with the college’s Academic Civic Engagement (ACE) program, gives students the opportunity to work on real-world physics and engineering problems. The companies provide projects relevant and important to their goals. Students work in teams to approach these projects from an engineering design perspective that emphasizes hands-on work, prototyping, and organizational skills.

“The class partners student groups with companies to solve engineering challenges they are facing,” Engebrecht says. “It helps the students understand the real-world importance and gives them experience working with professionals.”

William Gustafson ’18, Paul Timm ’18, Patrik Stefek ’18, and Benjamin Hinke ’18 test their prototype design as part of the Engineering Design Practicum. Student groups worked with Minnesota-based companies Medtronic and SageGlass.

Engbrecht’s Engineering Design Practicum is one of a number of ACE courses and projects that provide St. Olaf students with experiential learning opportunities. ACE encompasses everything from direct service to community-based research and public scholarship to advocacy and dialogue. ACE projects, which can be one-time or multi-term, are structured to be mutually beneficial to both the students and the community partners.

“The value of students working in ACE is tremendous,” Assistant Director for Academic Civic Engagement Alyssa Melby says. “It helps students understand their course content in deeper ways, and also expands their knowledge, understanding, and commitment to their community. These are the skills that will help them personally and professional as they leave college and begin their careers.”