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The Nexus of Science and Engineering: Structuring Individual Studies to Inform Senior Design Projects

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

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Paper Authors


David C. Zgonc United States Military Academy

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Captain Zgonc is an instructor at the United States Military Academy at West Point where he teaches introductory environmental engineering and environmental chemistry classes. Captain Zgonc is a 2005 graduate of the United States Military Academy and received his Master of Science degree in civil and environmental engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2014.

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Phil Dacunto P.E. United States Military Academy

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LTC Phil Dacunto is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. He earned a Ph.D. in the field of environmental engineering at Stanford University in 2013.

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Emily Arija Ezerins United States Military Academy


Dalton Jefferson Alexander Combs United States Military Academy

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I am are a USMA cadet graduating in May and will join the US Army as a commissioned officer.
While at West Point, I studied EV ENG. with a focus on methane bio digestion as well as an algae biofuels feasibility algorithm on military installations abroad.

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Jacob Neil Palmer United States Army

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I am a USMA cadet graduating on 21May2016 and will join the US army as a commissioned officer. At West Point, I majored in environmental engineering and conducted an independent study on anaerobic digestion.

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Semester-long advanced individual studies in engineering are dictated by the interest of the student and his or her advisor. Definitively, the topics of these studies push the student to the edges of the student’s knowledge and are often quite specific in scope. The exploration of specific topics necessarily requires the student to seek out specialized knowledge exceeding the depth and/or breadth of previous course work. This exploration can be distracting to the intent of learning about the engineering design process if rushed. How best, then, can the student, who is limited in time, adequately explore the science behind a problem involving a complex system before applying that knowledge to an informed, engineered design? One approach is to link the student’s individual study to group project work in a follow-on senior design course. This linkage extends the design cycle to one academic year within the curriculum framework and allows: 1) students to optimize their time and efforts in thoroughly understanding the science behind a problem before continuing in the design process; 2) adequate time for model building, testing, and iteration; 3) a more informed student population to feed technical discourse between peers and thus spawn professional growth. This paper qualitatively explores the costs and benefits of marrying an advanced individual study in horse waste as a biodigester feedstock with a central biodigester design project in a follow-on senior design course. Teaching design in this way allows students to more productively focus on learning hands-on the design process as opposed to being distracted by their knowledge shortfalls for the given study topic.

Zgonc, D. C., & Dacunto, P., & Ezerins, E. A., & Combs, D. J. A., & Palmer, J. N. (2016, June), The Nexus of Science and Engineering: Structuring Individual Studies to Inform Senior Design Projects Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26992

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