Engineering grants allow real-world experience
Like many seniors in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering, Dimitri Karles (B.S. ’12) and his teammates were faced with a dilemma when preparing their capstone project: how to pay for it.
Senior design projects are a graduation requirement in the school. The program is designed to teach leadership skills, to foster collaboration and to provide a glimpse of product innovations that could one day benefit society at large. The student teams typically fund construction of their project prototypes themselves. Previous teams have designed everything from human-powered moon buggies and home security systems to drug-delivery devices and solar-powered water filtration systems.
Things looked up for Karles and his teammates, Laura Deal (B.S. ’12) and Andrea Elkovich (B.S. ’12), when they learned about the new Mark A. Sternheimer Senior Design Award. Established in 2011 by long-time School of Engineering benefactor and Engineering Foundation Board member Mark Sternheimer, the Sternheimer Senior Design Award provides, through a competitive grant process, up to $10,000 annually for three years to support senior design project development and fabrication.
Karles and his team applied for an inaugural grant and received full funding for their innovative evaluative eye-tracking system. In all, 31 teams applied and 14 won awards. Award amounts varied and were based upon the teams’ budget requirements. Judging criteria included the completeness of the grant application as well as project creativity.
“The student grant applications included submission of an abstract and a complete project budget,” said R. Scott Rash, CFRE, executive director and chief development officer for the School of Engineering Foundation.
In addition to providing funding for the student projects, the grant process introduced VCU engineering students to the community by way of the judging team, which comprised corporate friends of the foundation.
Each year, the projects are presented to high school and middle school students — and anyone who wants a peek — during the Senior Design Expo, held in April at the Science Museum of Virginia.
“People from the engineering industry interviewed our students at the Senior Design Expo and were impressed by the project presentations,” said Afroditi V. Filippas, Ph.D., interim associate dean for undergraduate studies, associate professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and expo coordinator. “The type of philanthropy shown by Mark Sternheimer really ties VCU to the community and opens up a host of opportunities for our students.”
The real-world experience of grant writing and detailed budgeting required by the Sternheimer Award program, Rash explained, helped students focus on what was needed to turn their planned projects into reality.
“From scholarships to research on unmanned aerial vehicles, Mr. Sternheimer has invested in student-centered initiatives within the School of Engineering since its inception. His commitment to funding senior design projects through this grant process over the next three years is a great example of how a donor can leverage philanthropy in support of student’s co-curricular opportunities. In this case the students, win or lose, got an opportunity to go through a competitive grant process while key corporate friends of the School of Engineering got an in-depth, first-hand look at the quality of students the school is educating.”
Karles is grateful for Sternheimer’s support.
“The grant award gave us the opportunity to do whatever we needed to make the process work. We didn’t have to cut any corners. It motivated us to work even harder because we didn’t want to let anyone down.”
Just like in the real world.
To learn more about the School of Engineering, contact R. Scott Rash, CFRE, chief development officer for the School of Engineering Foundation, at (804) 828-1475 or email@example.com.