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Drake State Program Wows NSF Conference


Students from Drake State confirmed the college’s position as a national leader in the field of electronics with a first place finish at the National Science Foundation’s Emerging Researchers Conference, an annual conference addressing research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) recently held in Washington, D.C.  Drake State student, Charles Robertson, gave an oral presentation of his team’s research project entitled “Lift Me”.  Impressing the panel of judges, the project was awarded first place in the category of Engineering and Technology – Oral Presentations.   While Robertson made the oral presentation, he was assisted on the project’s development by fellow student Sean Morgan, student mentor Douglas Hilton, adjunct instructor James Pleasure and Engineering Technologies Department Chair, Karl Henry.

As part of The Emerging Researchers Conference, the National Science Foundation provides an opportunity for students from minority serving institutions to have their research projects evaluated by a panel of subject matter experts, faculty members and other research students. Historically, other two-year colleges have attended the conference; though in recent years, Drake State has been the only two-year college whose students have presented their projects for competition.  This year the “Lift Me” project, demonstrated the use of embedded systems technology and mechatronics to create a lifting device for the mobility impaired. 

The project involved using FPGA’s (Field Programmable Gateway Arrays) and Microcontrollers (or “embedded technology”) to control a chair-like lifting device.  This device would allow a caregiver to assist a person with little to no mobility to be lifted from a prone position at floor level to a seated position.   Lifting devices are usually completely mechanical, quite large, and require multiple personnel to control and use them.  The “Lift Me” project validated the conversion of a mechanical system to an “embedded mechatronic” device that will reduce the size and provides for a single assistant or singular patient control.

The FPGA Lab at Drake State is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation for the purpose of developing student designers and to train instructors in the southeast region how to teach FPGA technology.  The lab is housed within the Industrial Electronics Program, but there is cross training with other related disciplines that can develop technicians who are trained in electronics, computer hardware and software.  This is the case with Robertson who will graduate in May with an Associate Degree in Information and Communication Technology.

“I was curious and liked bringing software and electronics together. It was fun and being able to write software helped out a lot,” says Robertson.

While Robertson already had plans to continue his education in computer engineering, he was amazed that faculty of four year institutions were actively recruiting him after seeing his presentation.

“This conference is an excellent opportunity for students to demonstrate the technologically advanced training and education we are providing at Drake State,” says Dr. John Reutter, Director of Accreditation and New Program Development.  “These students were not only outstanding because they received first place, but because they did it while competing against much larger four year colleges and universities.”

In the last two years, Drake State students have been recognized for their accomplishments in Engineering and Technology.  In an effort to inspire students from other programs of the college;    students and faculty representing biological sciences, math, and health sciences were also active participants at the conference.  Students Sunil Tyata, Patrick McDonald and Russell Thomas also participated in the competitive portion of the conference in the category of Computer Science – Team Presentation for a website designed for reporting grant activities. 

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