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NMSU students turn class project into community service

New Mexico State University engineering students are getting hands-on experience in their field before they earn their degree. As a lab project, engineering technology majors are designing, testing and manufacturing three styles of benches.

NMSU mechanical engineering technology major Chance Valentine paints the metal frame of a park bench that will be donated to New Mexico State University's College of Engineering. (NMSU photo by Meghann Dallin)

The 15 juniors and seniors in the manufacturing class were divided into three groups. Each group was responsible for designing and building ten benches. Upon completion, 30 benches will be donated to the College of Engineering to be used in Engineering Complex III.

Although building benches may sound quite simple, "it requires much thought, planning and organization," said Anthony Hyde, NMSU engineering professor. The process began with brainstorming design ideas, drawing plans and perfecting designs through prototypes. Designs had to be altered for strength, cost and cosmetic reasons, but students were not only concerned with durability and appearance. "We tested the benches for ergonomics, how they feel," said Chance Valentine, mechanical engineering technology major.

The production and assembly class is a requirement for the new manufacturing minor being offered through the engineering technology department. The students enrolled in the course have been working on the bench-building project throughout the semester.

Each group member was responsible for a different aspect of the process. There were over 600 pieces of wood that were individually cut and measured before assembly began. Other students mixed paint and painted the benches' metal frames.

Each group of students developed a different bench style. All have a metal frame, but vary in seat design. One is a traditional park bench with wood seats, arms and back rests. Another has a canvas sling seat. The third has a cushioned back rest and seat.

Students are building the benches entirely on their own, but welding and sawing isn't the only labor involved. Some students are sewing the canvas seats with a 1910 Singer sewing machine. "I am very pleased with the student's work," Hyde said. "They have not been afraid to learn new things."

The engineering technology department spent $1,500 on materials to build the benches. Students involved believe the money spent was a good investment for the entire department. "Students are always sitting on the floors all over the (engineering) building," Valentine said.

When the engineering college built Engineering Complex III, connecting two existing buildings, various hallways were closed off, creating several lobby areas. The benches will fill some of the open space and provide places for students to rest between classes.

In the past, students enrolled in the class have built over 200 lab chairs for use in the new engineering classrooms. Hyde plans for this class to make other items needed around the school and community in future semesters. "So far, this innovative course format has been a win-win situation for both the students and the engineering technology department," he said.

Hyde also credited George Alexander, engineering technology department head, for his support of these types of innovative programs.