November 14, 2022
Prototyping. Energy Systems. Robo. Automation. These four labs are, and have historically been, separate. Yet they all have something in common: the Engineering Design Process. To unify these under a common umbrella, robotics teacher Kristen Kucko is leading an initiative to allow students to work in multiple labs at a time.
“TJ Engineering is a lab experience where students who have taken any two engineering electives can spend their senior year designing and building a project,” Kucko said.
This allows students to undertake more complex multi-disciplinary projects.
“For instance, in the Robotics Lab, students can start their project by rapid prototyping and enhance those prototypes with sensors and Arduinos. Once the prototype is finalized, the students can manufacture their parts using the fabrication equipment in the Prototyping Lab,” Kucko said. “In Energy Systems and Electronics, students can learn how to power and propel their projects. Finally in the Automation Lab, students can apply computer vision and AI to make the project autonomous.”
Kucko explains that this approach better mirrors what students will find later in their professional lives.
“In life, problems are solved by cross functional teams. They are solving problems using the Engineering Design Process and gaining hands-on experience,” Kucko said.
Part of the inspiration for TJ engineering is the growth of long, multi-year engineering projects. Through TJ Engineering, students participating in those projects will be able to continue the work they’ve done extracurricularly as underclassmen during their Senior year lab experience. Effectively, their engineering extracurricular, be it TJ Space, Rocketry, Automotive Engineering or TJ Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), could become their senior research lab.
“Students have shown a growing interest in aerospace as demonstrated by the popularity of TJ Space, TJ UAV and Rocketry [Club]. The Engineering Research Lab allows students the flexibility to build a project and access all three of the labs. TJ’s engineering program recognizes that student’s interests are evolving, and that the engineering classes need to evolve to better support the needs of the students,” Kucko said.
Senior Aditya Vasantharao is a member of TJ UAV, one of the clubs that’ll benefit from the proposal. He participated in some of the conversations that helped inspire the idea, and mentions that the abilities learned in Jefferson’s engineering classes go hand-in-hand with work done at clubs.
“The stuff you learn in Robo, Analog, and Digital fits well with the [extracurricular] engineering teams,” Vasantharao said.
TJ Engineering is similar to university initiatives.
“At Cornell, they have engineering project teams, which is a unified front for their engineering program,” Vasantharao said.
The program hints at greater advancement in TJ’s engineering domain.
“It’s kind of symbolic of what this new era of TJ is going to be. There are clubs with 50-60 people [each] trying to do crazy things that no other high school and even some college students have never done before,” Vasantharao said. “This type of thing hadn’t happened before at TJ, so this is a step in the right direction.”