Four men standing together inside local sewer plant

Students visit local sewer plant for ‘real world’ engineering experience

As part of his Introduction to Engineering Design class, Shenango professor collaborates with local industries in order for his students to witness actual projects and designs.

By: Liz Izenas

Penn State Shenango Assistant Teaching Professor of Engineering Dr. Matthew Caputo recently introduced his freshmen students to the “real world” of engineering with a tour of the city of Sharon’s Waste Water Treatment Plant.

The purpose of the trip was for the students to witness actual engineering projects and designs, with an emphasis on a real need and a proposed solution, in motion. Following their visit, the students were assigned to redesign, in three-dimensions, a particular component in the overall sewer treatment process. 

Part of Caputo’s Introduction to Engineering Design class requirements is for his students to complete two engineering design projects. Through local collaboration, Caputo seeks external sponsorship for one of the projects he assigns each year. Last year, the Engineering Department at the Shenango campus partnered with the Joy Cone Company. The freshmen engineering students received a tour of the plant to get an idea of the manufacturing and packaging process. Afterwards, students were tasked with designing a new ice cream cone that met the specific standards of the pre-existing manufacturing process.

“Every year, I seek out local industries that are willing to sponsor our freshman engineering design projects,” said Caputo. “These projects provide our students with experience through actual engineering designs. I am very grateful for the support from our local industries. These resident companies play an instrumental role in the educational experiences our students receive.”

The tour of the Sharon Waste Water Treatment Plant was provided to the Shenango group by Guy Cunningham, authority manager. It began where most things related to engineering begin: at the drawing board, where Cunningham showed the students the two-dimensional drawings for the three-dimensional buildings on site.

“These two-dimensional drawings are heavily emphasized in the classroom,” said Caputo. “I’m glad our students were able to grasp the connection between paper representation and the physical objects.”

The tour continued as students got to see where the chemical analysis of the water is completed and then on to the plant where the group followed the treatment process from beginning to end.

“It was very informative, as well as interesting, to learn how wastewater is treated, how the equipment is used to treat it, and how it operates,” said Penn State Shenango student Daniel Foust from Lakeview, Pa.

In addition to getting to see how the Water Treatment Plant works, Foust, who is a first-year engineering student studying agricultural engineering, is fortunate to be an undergraduate research assistant working with Caputo.

“It is quite a unique opportunity for a freshman undergraduate student to be a part of a research project and to be compensated,” said Caputo. “The goal is to offer our students opportunities at Shenango that students could receive at University Park. Currently, our group is building a metallic powder bed 3D printer and collaborating with a university in New York on another project that involves 3D printing technology.”

For more information about Penn State’s Engineering program, contact Dr. Caputo at 724-983-2947.