Visiting MDOT engineers observe how Eastern Michigan University trains students for crucial jobs in today’s Michigan economy

Group enjoys tours of ongoing Sill Hall construction project and renovated Strong Hall

Phil Rufe, professor of engineering technology.
Philip Rufe, a professor of engineering technology, shows the group a design lab.

YPSILANTI – A group of about 20 engineers from the Michigan Department of Transportation got a strong sense of how Eastern Michigan University is training students in areas that connect with the state’s future employment needs during a tour of EMU facilities Thursday, Sept. 5.

The group spent the afternoon visiting the classrooms in recently renovated Strong Hall along with a tour of Sill Hall, home of the College of Engineering and Technology (CET), which is being renovated in a $40 million project to accommodate the college’s expanding engineering programs.

Mohamad Qatu, Dean of the CET, led the tour through the facility, part of which has opened this semester.

“All of our professors strongly connect with our students,” Qatu told the group, noting the smaller class size that typifies Eastern and the attention faculty can give to each student’s development.

Philip Rufe, a professor of engineering technology, showed the group a design lab, where students create their own projects on a variety of industrial machines.

Robert Ranck, a region engineer with MDOT for the Bay Region, which includes the Saginaw area, said he appreciated the practical experience students get in the CET.

“It’s more than just theory,” he said. “You get to do multiple things here … Students get really well rounded.”

Qatu described some of the CET’s many activities, including its new facility that will explore drone technology, along with myriad community outreach efforts such as the annual Digital Divas events for school-aged girls, visits by area schools and the CET’s girls’ engineering summer program.

He added that the CET is helping fill a critical need in Michigan, where 1,000 new engineering jobs are offered each week. “We’re trying to fill that gap,” he said.

Qatu ended the tour with a stop in the CET’s virtual reality lab, one of many special new flourishes of the Sill Hall renovation.

“You truly feel embedded here,” Qatu said, noting the many uses of virtual reality in training students and professionals in various scenarios. “This facility is an extremely component of the future.”

Kim Avery, an engineer with MDOT, noted one such use, which is training technicians how to conduct inspections in a cluttered and active highway construction zone. Avery said she appreciates the need for such a facility.

“It’s always eye opening to see what (schools such as Eastern) are offering and how they are adapting to the needs of the workplace,” she said.

Earlier, the group visited Strong Hall (the third and final phase of the Science Complex), which reopened last January after a $40 million renovation.

Rick Sambrook, head of the department of Geography and Geology (G&G), hosted the tour.  

He began by noting his department’s long history of providing interns in the Historic Preservation, Urban & Regional Planning and Geography programs, adding that G&G has both an undergraduate and graduate certificate in Transportation Planning and Modeling. 

The group also visited a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) teaching laboratory, where professor Xining Yang made a brief presentation - using a GIS Story Board - to showcase EMU student project work related to transportation issues in Michigan. 

Also included on the tour:

• A stop at the Geovisualization Simulation Lab, where professor Danny Bonenberger conducts research in "Virtual Heritage," which is the use of GIS and 3-D modeling to explore aspects of various places described in literature or historic maps.  

• A visit to a laboratory (Strong 112) designed for wood conservation of historic artifacts, - including architectural features of buildings and furniture. 

Sambrook said he also spoke to Christine Hunnicutt Director of Human Resources for MDOT, about increasing the number of internship opportunities for G&G students.

“I thought this was a great visit,” Sambrook said. “The best part of the visit was that MDOT staff had the opportunity to talk directly to our students sitting in the classroom. I hope other such opportunities present themselves soon.”

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 18,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

September 11, 2019

Written by:
Geoff Larcom

Geoff Larcom