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Engineering success at Doane

Engineering success at Doane

Students in Doane's EGR 260 course stand behind their Rube Goldberg machine.

It used to be that if you wanted to study engineering in Nebraska, you found your way to Lincoln. That changed in 2016, the first year that students at Doane University could declare their engineering major. 

As of June 2021, all students who have since graduated from Doane’s engineering program are employed, with the majority accepting positions in Nebraska at local firms and companies such as Olsson, Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing, Kiewit and Schneider Electric, among others. In fact, many of the students had job offers presented to them before even receiving their diplomas.

“Companies are competing for our students,” said Cale Stolle, assistant professor of engineering and physics. “Businesses have ramped up recruiting efforts.” 

This is the fifth year of Doane’s bachelor of science in engineering program, which now offers emphases in civil, electrical, environmental and mechanical engineering. The program is in the process of applying for accreditation by ABET — the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. 

Compared to a larger university, engineering students at Doane receive the benefits of smaller classes and more personal attention. They also experience an education rich in the liberal arts, with classes focusing beyond textbooks and facts, and delving into critical thinking, communication, and collaborating in groups and teams, all of which are vital to project successes in the workplace.

“Our philosophy is that experience is the best teacher,” Stolle said. “And that’s the case for a lot of Doane STEM programs. It’s not just learning something, but being able to do something with it.”

A recent example is Joel TerMaat’s ENR 260 course. Three groups of students worked together to design and build three Rube Goldberg machines — a complex machine built to achieve a simple task. The three machines were then installed in the Edgerton Explorit Center in Aurora, Nebraska. Throughout the process, students had to consider how each aspect of the machine would be safe for children to play with, and that it had to be easily reset for continued use. 

“It was super rewarding to see it work and then have it implemented somewhere that it has a practical use,” said Jonathan Szwaja, who was in the class. Szwaja will start his senior year in the fall, and is majoring in engineering with a minor in leadership studies. 

He’s participating in an internship this summer in DeWitt at Malco Products, which produces locking pliers in the facility known for formerly producing Vise-Grip pliers. Stolle helped him get the internship, he said. Although internships are encouraged as part of the program’s emphasis on experience, they aren’t a graduation requirement. 

Szwaja actually started his career at Doane as an education major, intending to teach high school math upon graduation. It turned out that many of the math classes he was required to take for education were part of the course requirements for engineering. So he switched majors. 

“I’ve loved everything about the program,” Szwaja said, particularly the people who are part of it, professors and students alike.  

There’s no research requirement for faculty, all of whom are passionate about teaching, Stolle said. Not that research isn’t present — faculty can apply annually for grants to support projects. But it isn’t the forefront, which allows professors to focus on helping students get the experience they need to be successful after graduation. 

Part of that experience is being able to make mistakes on projects in the classroom and learn from them. There’s a lot of responsibility in engineering, Stolle said, in creating projects that are creative and innovative, but also safe and sustainable. But by experiencing mistakes during their education, students learn to engage with that responsibility and think through variables that could impact projects. 

“Our students work hard and they’re not afraid to tackle challenges,” Stolle said.

Case in point: the senior research project chosen by Szwaja and three other students in his group. 

“We’re going to put in a heat pump in the middle of the pond to use for the dorm’s HVAC system,” Szwaja said, to provide a more sustainable way to heat and cool Hansen Leadership Hall, Sheldon Hall and Frees Hall. His team will conduct the design study needed to implement the heat pump — and hope to one day see their work used to install it.