Riding the Waves

Since joining LSU’s College of Engineering in 1999, Electrical and Computer Engineering Senior Instructor and Undergraduate Advisor John Scalzo has created many educational opportunities for ECE majors.

Scalzo, who earned his bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech and his master’s in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech, teaches two senior design classes as part of LSU’s ECE Capstone course, where students will ultimately construct and test one of their own designs. His spring senior design class, EE 4810, consists of lectures on topics including engineering design, effective communication, and selected technical topics. The second half of the class, EE4820, takes place in the fall and has students team up to construct a design that is documented and prototyped.

One such design created in the fall of 2017 was the Jack Hombres Project, a system designed to automatically raise and lower a boat motor to maximize the efficiency and speed of the motor. The four-person group that designed the project consists of electrical engineering majors Matthew Drago of Baton Rouge, John Reid of Denham Springs, Charles Seeds of Baton Rouge, and Taj Chauvin of Baton Rouge.

“We devised a plan to each find five ideas that have yet to be designed,” Chauvin said. “We then took those ideas and narrowed them down to the three most feasible and innovative. The [boat motor] idea came while I was brainstorming with another boating friend on possible ways to connect the design project to making the boating world safer.”

With the use of Chauvin’s boat, the team took its project for a spin on the waters of St. James Parish on a chilly Sunday. As with every senior project, Scalzo would need to be present to supervise the final project to see if it was deemed a success.

“We need students to prove that their projects actually work, and the only way to prove that this time was to go out on the water, which was fun,” Scalzo said.

The project was a success.

“Thanksgiving Day was the first time we were able to get the project to work,” Chauvin said. “Combining the significance of that day with all the hard work we put into the project made for a very emotion-filled event.”

Asked what happens if a group’s project doesn’t work as expected, Scalzo says not to worry.

“I tell the students all the time, you will care more about your project working than me,” he said. “I care more about the process. It’s more important that the students learn the process of design and working on a team to meet goals. Failure is a part of engineering. It happens. They tell me they learned so much when something didn’t work because they had to troubleshoot this, read about this and try this. All of that experimenting, data collecting and analyzing helps them be better engineers.”

“Professor Scalzo really did a great job of connecting the senior design course with the outside engineering world,” Chauvin said. “He really forced us to think outside the box, and it’s those sort of tasks that will make us good engineers.”

Scalzo said seeing his students complete their projects at the end of the semester is “very exciting because the students feel like they’ve put together four years of school, sometimes five years, and then they get to do this project, and it works, and they have this great experience, and are so happy and proud. Going to graduation in December is my favorite time because those are the students that are with me in senior design, and we all just celebrate their accomplishments. It’s great,” he said.

The ECE course is certified as a “Communication-Intensive Course” by LSU’s Communication Across the Curriculum Advisory Council, which is to say the course meets the requirements of devoting a substantial amount of effort to improving the written, oral, and visual communication skills of the students.
Aside from teaching both senior design classes, Scalzo also teaches EE 2810, EE 2120, and EE 4350, the latter of which is “Applied Electromagnetics” and focuses on radio frequency (RF) systems, a growing field where students are finding “great careers,” he said.

Thanks to the philanthropic donations of Ed Burt McNeill, a retired Exxon engineer who was also on LSU’s Advisory Board, Scalzo is now able to provide his RF students with six labs that have RF instrumentation for students.

Whether helping students ride waves for a project or teaching them about waves of the electromagnetic variety, John Scalzo is one instructor who is willing to go the extra mile.

View a demo of the Jack Hombres Project by clicking here.

By Libby Haydel, Communications Specialist

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