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Acquiring practical knowledge through 'real world' projects

PROVO, Utah — For many students at BYU, getting an education means more than text books and tests — it means acquiring and applying practical knowledge.

In recent months BYU students have been working on such projects as fine-tuning an electric car, designing work stations for the disabled, and building life-size robots.

Others are using literature to learn about the past or writing the history of a group of people. Some students are taking the skills they are learning in the classroom and volunteering in their own communities, while others are writing menus that are helping people in communities across the world.

BYU student April Marley, who researched and designed a pager for an industrial design class, said more and more companies are looking to hire people with practical knowledge.

"What our class has done is so 'real world,' so much like what we'll be doing in industry, that it's been a great learning experience for all of us," she said.

Following are examples of a few of the projects with which BYU students from several different fields have been involved this year:

TECHNOLOGY

A race car, named Electric Blue, sped around the Thunder Mountain Raceway in Springville, Utah, while several BYU students looked on. They were admiring their work.

The blue and white electric race car — which can reach speeds around 120 miles per hour — is part of an ongoing project by BYU to study and develop electronic vehicles.

After taking precise measurements, analyzing the data and making adjustments for the past month, the students will now have the opportunity to race their car in a multi-university competition in Tustin, Calif., June 12.

Electric Blue is powered by 28 batteries that push the car to high speeds.

During the 30-mile race in Tustin, a professional driver will operate the car and the BYU students will act as the pit crew that changes its 1,200 pounds of batteries, said Tom Erekson, director of the BYU School of Technology.

Matt Adams, a manufacturing engineering major who has worked on the car, is excited for its first race.

"I have always been interested in cars," he said. "[Electric race cars] are going to be a test ground for new electric car technology."

HISTORY

BYU students spent time this year chronicling the 106-year history of Provo's Catholic parish. They recently presented to the Provo City Landmark Commission a historical archive, which included pictures of the old parish building, documents detailing the story of Catholicism in the area and oral histories from local parishioners.

Rev. William Flegge, pastor of the Provo parish, said those who participated in the project seemed to have benefited from the experiences.

"It is important for an institution like ours, which has a long history and holds a position in the community as a minority religion, to have a written record," Rev. Flegge said. "The students wanted to help us record our story, and it looks like the experience has helped them learn more about their community as well."

Alison Whiting, a history student, said because of the strong feelings that parishioners have for the Provo parish building, she and her classmates followed a personal approach to recording its history.

"We wanted to make something the parish could really use," she said. "Learning how to be a historian has taught me how history can open peoples' eyes and make a difference in their lives."

LAW

In a class where BYU law students are learning how to constructively serve their communities, law professor David Dominquez is trying to do the seemingly impossible — give people a reason to like lawyers.

In the course students learn to use legal skills to identify and solve troubling issues in the community before they end up in litigation. Recently, 24 students worked on five separate community issues: police and minority relations in south Provo, landlord and college-age tenant relations, issues surrounding recent English-only legislation, a beautification project for a neighborhood south of the BYU campus and an abuse prevention project.

Malia Godfrey, a third-year law student, is hoping family education will help prevent spouse abuse, which often leads to divorce and custody hearings.

"Instead of talking about abuse after it happens, we want to educate people about the positive things they can do to strengthen their families before they end up in a courtroom," she said. "We've arranged to introduce various community family education groups, a family law attorney and the manager of BYU's married student complexes to each other. We hope to create connections within the field and get some education classes going at BYU."

NUTRITION

As a result of the work by several BYU nutrition students, the emergency food boxes sent as part of the Church's relief effort in Kosovo are nutritionally balanced.

The project started when Diana McGuire, an associate dietetics professor at BYU, was asked by LDS Humanitarian Service to research and plan balanced food box menus, which provide a family of four with approximately 2,000 calories per person, each day, for a week.

She enlisted students in her community nutrition class to create nine different menus, each based on food staples common to particular geographic regions. "People in China don't eat the same types of food that people in Mexico do, so we made adjustments accordingly," she said. "For example, students based the menu for Asia on rice and fish and the South American menu on bean and corn products."

After a trip to the Church's food distribution plant in Lindon, Utah, to learn which readily available food supplies could fit inside a medium-sized cardboard box, the dietitians went to work. Students planned menus for North America; South America; Central America and Africa; Western Europe; Eastern Europe; Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan; Asia and India; and Russia.

Melinda Topham, a BYU student who worked on the project, is pleased the menus are being used to help people who need it in Kosovo and in other parts of the world.

"It's incredible to think that an assignment we did for our community nutrition class is being used on this scale," Sister Topham said. "I saw on the news that the Church was sending over relief boxes and wondered to myself, 'Are those the menus we prepared?'"

INDUSTRIAL DESIGN

As part of an industrial design class that teams education with industry, BYU students helped come up with the original concept behind Motorola's TalkAbout radio — a high-tech version of the walkie-talkie.

A partnership with the school and Motorola began four years ago when the company found that hand-held, two-way radios — long known for their use within law enforcement — needed a new image. Hoping to break into new markets, Motorola requested BYU students to investigate the lifestyles of customers who might use a hand-held radio to communicate.

Student research discovered that outdoor enthusiasts would readily accept the hand-held radio for use in their sporting activities. With this market segment in mind, the class developed designs. Then, drawing inspiration from the class' ideas, Motorola designer Glen Oross, a graduate from BYU's program, came up with the final design for the TalkAbout radio.

Because of the TalkAbout's success in the marketplace, Motorola asked additional BYU students to work on a similar project involving pagers.

Mark Solomon, a BYU senior, researched and designed a pager for high school and college students. "Maybe the reason my pager turned out so well was because I'm part of the target market I was designing for," he said. "I pretty much created something I would want for myself."

HISTORY

For the past 2 1/2 years at BYU, Ryan Rowberry has been studying history by analyzing Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. As part of the project he reads photo copies of original manuscripts of Chaucer's famous work, written in Middle English, and studies spelling and linguistic differences.

Brother Rowberry hopes that his work analyzing the texts will fuel fires, encouraging others to take a look at Chaucer's work, written in the 1480s and '90s, and, from it, learn more about how people thought and lived during the 15th Century.

"Every age has progressed on another," he said. "I hope [this research] will interest more people. The more people who become interested in the age, the more people will read and learn. I hope to help excite people about it, because I am excited about it."

For this and other work, Brother Rowberry was selected as one of 32 Rhodes Scholars nationwide and will study at University of Oxford in England, this fall.

ENGINEERING

BYU alumni attending football games and other school events may get a visit from a life-size robotic Brigham Young, designed by several BYU engineering students this year.

The life-size robot, which can walk and talk, will also be used to help recruit students to pursue a degree in BYU's School of Technology.

The life-size robotic Brigham Young is just one of 29 engineering projects built for BYU's Integrated Product and Process Design course created to teach students the ins and outs of real-world engineering.

For example, three of this year's projects focused on products that improve the quality of life for people with disabilities — a custom-made wheelchair work station, a lightweight hand-powered bicycle and a lever wheelchair. Other projects included a robotic printer that writes on contoured surfaces for NASA, a mini-Baja car and a titanium time capsule for the Church's Sunday School sesquicentennial.

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