UC Merced Students Light the Way with Senior Challenge Idea

UC Merced Students Light the Way with Senior Challenge Idea

When UC Merced students Heather Poiry and Anne Mahacek heard that campus administrators were looking for students to submit proposals for a Senior Challenge project, the duo stepped up to the plate to pitch a bright idea.

Poiry and Mahacek, both mechanical engineeringmajors and seniors, proposed to develop a kinetic walkway. When stepped on, the device converts the energy from a person's footsteps into electricity. In their proposal, the students wrote that upon completion, the walkway could be used during the university's commencement ceremony in May. Electricity generated by the footsteps of graduating students who walk on it as they receive their degree will power blue and gold LED lights at the front of the stage.

Poiry and Mahacek's Senior Challenge proposal was among 15 submitted, said David Turner, the leadership programsand judicial affairscoordinator at UC Merced. Two of the 15 received funding: the kinetic walkway and the Fairy Shrimp Chronicles ,a book about what it took to create, build and develop UC Merced.

Turner said that the two projects were selected because both had unique experiences to offer the students involved, had a meaningful contribution to the senior class and role modeled the potential of our pioneering class.

Poiry and Mahacek's project involves two components. The walkway portion is called Lighting the Path. The other is called the Black Box Project, in which students will document their process from idea development to implementation. The hope is to create a how to template for others who embark on future Senior Challenge projects. The students will receive $6,000 to fund the project. The money will be used to pay for materials, lab space, design and development, publicity and production.

The women said they viewed the Senior Challenge as a way to bring together students from multiple disciplines.

We really wanted it to be a true representation of what UC Merced stands for, Mahacek said. It's not just about helping us. We want (the project) to encapsulate the spirit of UC Merced - being a green campus, cross-collaboration and interdisciplinary work.

Poiry added that the project also offers students an opportunity to put to work the knowledge and skills they have acquired during their academic career at UC Merced.

When you're in a class setting and you're learning theories related to your profession, sometimes you wonder if you'll really be able to do it in the real world, Poiry said. The motivation was for us, the students, to gain confidence in our abilities.

The students have an ambitious timetable in which to complete their project. They will recruit other students to form a core committee that will oversee the different aspects of the project. Engineeringstudents would build the walkway and those in the writing programcould write the product proposal and marketing materials.

While the completed walkway provide a very cool display with its colored lights illuminating the stage, Poiry and Mahacek said on a larger scale, the technology behind the device can help create an alternative energy source. For example, a kinetic walkway installed in a staircase or corridor that gets major foot traffic could help generate electricity.

The students hope to have their first prototype completed by the end of February and are excited to take on the challenge.

It's a really great way to give back to the school that has given us so much, Poiry said .

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