Left to right: EMU engineering students Benjamin Friesen Guhr, Sean Swartley, Jacob Hess, Craig Hertzler and program director Daniel King collaborate with Hesston College engineering students on a trivision board project. (Larry Bartel/Hesston College)

EMU, Hesston College engineering schools strengthen ties with collaboration

When EMU student Craig Hertzler ’99 returned to Hesston College for the first time since graduating in 1995, he noticed one change in particular. 

“The trees were a lot smaller when I went there,” said Hertzler, explaining that a tornado had ripped through the small Kansas town shortly before he began his studies there. “Now, there’s all these large trees. But, I guess, 28 years of growth will do that.”

Hertzler, who also graduated from EMU with a degree in biochemistry in 1999, visited Hesston in October with three other EMU engineering students — Jacob Hess, Benjamin Friesen Guhr and Sean Swartley — and program director Daniel King as part of a collaboration between the two schools. The partnership was sponsored by the Marpeck Fund, which provides grants to foster relationships and strengthen ties between Mennonite institutions.

“Eastern Mennonite University and Hesston College have a long history of collaboration in various areas,” Johann Reimer, engineering program director for Hesston College, said in a news release from the school. “I am so excited that we were able to forge ahead with a totally new engineering-related collaboration that provided real benefits for faculty and students alike.”

Picking a project

The partnership started this spring, when EMU hosted a group of Hesston College engineering students and faculty members. The group from Hesston reviewed two projects that 11 EMU students in the Engineering Design II class presented and chose one to improve. They chose to redesign a trivision board the EMU students created.

Hesston College engineering students work on a trivision board project. (Larry Bartel/Hesston College)

Trivision boards, often used for billboard advertising, are made from vertical triangular prisms aligned together in a frame. The boards can show up to three ads, with the display depending on which of the prism’s sides are facing the viewer. 

“We wanted something fun to do that isn’t super common anymore, but we wanted to add a flair to it,” said Hertzler, a student in the spring semester course. Unlike traditional trivision boards, which use a single gear to rotate all the panels at the same time, students in the class attached a motor to each prism so they could control them individually.  

King said the project was one that students from both engineering schools could equally contribute to.

“Hesston’s program is a mechatronics program — a combination of mechanical and electronics — and we have mechanical and computer engineering,” he said. “So, we came up with a project that had components of both.”

The trivision board could be used to display advertising for events or clubs on campus.

“It could show artwork,” King said. “As our students mentioned, it could also show facts about environmental sustainability.”

EMU students in the class answered questions from Hesston College students about their design decisions, and the two groups bounced ideas off each other. In addition to their collaborative work on the project, students from Hesston College toured the Harrisonburg, Virginia, campus, sat in on engineering courses and hiked in the nearby Shenandoah National Park.

Returning the favor

During their fall break in October, the EMU engineering group traveled about 1,200 miles westward to Hesston College in south central Kansas. There, they toured the campus, attended engineering classes and were presented with a redesign of the trivision board.

EMU and Hesston College engineering students and faculty partnered this year on a design project. (Larry Bartel/Hesston College)

Hesston students added a motion sensor to the board that could trigger the panels to rotate with a wave. They also changed the type of motor used.

“It was neat to see them tackle the problem differently,” Hertzler said, “and it was fun engaging with their questions.”

Hess, an EMU senior who transferred from Hesston in 2021, was not part of the class that designed the trivision board in the spring, but used the trip as an opportunity to meet former professors and attend a robotics class. He said the long-distance collaboration helps simulate what it’s like to work on projects in the workforce. 

“You might have a group in one part of the country working on a project with a group in another part of the country, with completely different time zones,” Hess said.

King said the collaboration helped students focus on documenting the design process and communicating it to others. The partnership helped build relationships between faculty at both schools and showed students “that engineering is a bigger world than at just one institution,” he said.

Looking back, he said that one highlight of their trip was seeing the rockets and spacecraft at the Cosmosphere museum in Hutchinson, Kansas.

“The hiking was also fun,” he said, “but we joked that we have better hiking in Shenandoah than out in Kansas.” 

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