Designing to make the world a better place

Last Updated 27 December, 2015

by Elisa (Rau) Bullock, class of 2015

Go forth and be a transformative agent in the world by serving God and loving people is a charge NNU students hear often. It may take the form of a student traipsing through a lush jungle in search of a new species; a youth pastor investing in the lives of countless teenagers; or a group of engineers working with a cutting edge company, using their skills to develop a device to help improve the lives of infants.

In addition to a rigorous academic schedule, the NNU Department of Physics and Engineering also requires its students to design and develop senior projects, the goal of which is not only to give them a professional edge but also to widen their worldview and allow them to see how their skills can make a difference.

“Our professors sat us down and outlined four different project topics [sponsored by and through organizations like TekFab, the Institute for Affordable Transportation, and Micron Technology]. One stuck out to me ... an infant emergency detection device,” 2015 engineering graduate John Lonai (Milton Freewater, Ore.) explained. “It sounded like something you could really develop a product for and feel like you’ve accomplished something to help someone.”

John, along with Drew Johnson (Tacoma, Wash.) and Tyler Marsh (Boise, Idaho), spent a large portion of his senior year developing this infant emergency detection device. “It will measure the pulse and blood oxygen saturation of the infant and alert the parents if the readings drop outside a safe region,” Drew stated.

“On the market currently, three or four competitors have an infant monitoring device, so we thought we could take it further,” John explained. “We incorporated into our design an EEG sensor that measures the electrical activity of the baby’s brain. It’s non-invasive, and infants have it done all the time for seizures or sleep problems.”

“It has been a good introduction to what it’s like to work in a company,” Drew commented. “They tell us what they want us to design and what they want the function of the device to be, and then we are given a timeline and budget to work with.” The rest is up to the students to figure out, challenging them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. When asked what they look for in new employees, representatives of Micron said, “Evidence of candidates’ expressing a desire to go above and beyond—going the extra mile to solve difficult problems.”

These senior projects are not designed for students to ease through, but are intended to stretch students to use all of the skills they have learned throughout school. While daunting at first, this exercise pays off. “I’ve learned I am a better engineer than I thought I was. It has made me more confident and given me the ability to step out of my comfort zone,” Drew said. At times, fulfilling the requirement included some creativity. “We have had to figure out how to deal with possible problems and determine ways to solve them,” Tyler said.

This project was not just about completing an assignment or building their resumes. “NNU has inspired me to do engineering with a purpose,” John said. “Maybe we will be better able to track infant sleep and give information to doctors and parents to try to save the lives of some babies.”

With these types of connections and real-life experiences, NNU students are equipped to enter their career fields and are prepared to make a difference in the world.

Photo caption: Drew Johnson, John Lonai and Tyler Marsh work in the lab on their infant vital signs monitor. Watch a video highlighting several other 2015 engineering senior projects at