How I Became a Real Engineer

Graduation is right around the corner! For every senior at the Hajim School of Engineering at the University of Rochester, the month of April is both an exciting and nerve-wracking time: the year-long capstone project is due by the end of the month. This senior design capstone project is usually a proud product of many senior engineering students because of the entire product development process. From initial brainstorming ideas to design until the last implementation, it truly tests every senior student’s problem-solving abilities, but also shows that we have become actual engineers who can build real products.

As engineering students, the senior design capstone project is required as part of our degree. As soon as we began our senior year, we started brainstorming ideas and conducting literature research to decide whether each idea is feasible. During the fall semester of our senior year, we started to form groups, discuss ideas, and draft a formal proposal to present to our advisors by the end of fall semester. For my electrical and computer engineering (ECE) senior seminar class last year, we not only needed to form groups and draft proposals, but we also did a reverse engineering project, where ECE students conducted white box and black box analyses of an existing product to learn about its properties and construction details.

My senior design project is developing a radio-frequency identification (RFID) identity-screening system for the graduation ceremony, where each ECE and audio and music engineering (AME) graduate will be assigned a passive RFID card. As they walk on the stage to receive their diploma, they will scan their cards with a reader, and a customized software application will display their information on a big projector screen so every ceremony attendee can read their name, their hometown, and achievements in college.

My senior design team

My senior design team


My team and I decided to take this project on last semester when we learned that the administrative office of the Hajim School of Engineering had been looking for students to develop a system for the Hajim diploma ceremony this May. Many times, parents complain about not being able to see their children’s faces during the ceremony and not being able to hear the announcer pronounce their children’s names if they sit too far away. So, we thought this would be a great opportunity to help Hajim solve this problem and make the diploma ceremony more memorable for everyone.

Throughout the development process, my team and I spent lots of time researching about RFID technology, looking for compatible RFID readers and tags, developing the software application, and updating required documentations. Even though we had plenty of support from our departmental advisor and our client, the Hajim School of Engineering, we still needed to make lots of decisions and explore lots of areas on our own. Some of us taught ourselves Visual Basic (a programming language) from scratch, some of us talked to many hardware vendors to find affordable and functional devices, some of us spent lots of energy learning how to use those devices, and some of us maintained effective communications with our clients and other University departments that are associated with the project. Personally, I not only learned about RFID technology and honed my programming skills, but I also learned about effective communication methodologies and teamwork. Those are all extremely valuable skills that will prepare me well for the future workforce.

Besides our RFID project, within the ECE department, other teams are also doing lots of exciting projects. One team is developing a self-parking car, another is developing an exploratory device, and another team is creating a drone. We all have weekly meetings with our advisors and monthly presentations to the whole class about our progress. As the final design day approaches (design day is the last presentation day open for the public to view our senior design project), every team is wrapping up the development process trying to finish everything quickly.

I feel honored and proud to be able to develop a working product that can make a real impact on the Rochester community and leave some legacy for the electrical and computer engineering department after four years of engineering training and learning at the University of Rochester!

About the author

Sophie Zhang

I'm a member of Class of 2017 majoring in electrical and computer engineering and minoring in biomedical engineering. I'm originally from Chongqing, China, but I spent my junior and senior year of high school in Concord, New Hampshire. I am a campus tour guide, a brother of Alpha Phi Omega community service Fraternity and a contributing writer at Campus Times. I will also become a freshmen Resident Advisor and a senior interviewer next year. I am excited to meet all of you, Class of 2020 and 2021 in person!!!

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