Engineering students collaborate on a remote work term project with a community partner
How do two engineering students who have never met, design a greenhouse together during a pandemic?
With great success, despite some initial concerns, according to Jeremy Gates and Maria Outerbridge.
For their part, the students are pleased with how their remote work term designing a new structure on the grounds of Government House in St. John’s turned out.
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Under the co-operative education model, where undergraduate engineering students at Memorial are required to complete four work terms to graduate, students are given the option of completing a community service work term with a community organization or a not-for-profit group.
Students gain valuable technical experience while learning about the role engineers can play in their communities. The positions are made possible through support from the Fry Family Foundation.
The existing greenhouse, built in 1990, is showing its age. It is insufficient in size; the heating costs are high and its venting system needs upgrading. It also lacks a garage door, overhead misting system and other modern necessities.
They met with the gardeners at the facility, keeping social distancing measures in mind, and received direction on what the specifications for the new building should be.
Their design showcases new approaches to sustainable design and energy systems that will reduce heating costs without harming the environment.
“I proposed a heating system that can cool and heat a greenhouse using only fans, pipes and solar energy,” said Mr. Gates, who is in his fifth year of the civil engineering program at the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.
“The system can draw excess heat trapped inside the greenhouse underground through a pipe network to cool it. It can also draw out hot air located underground to provide heat when required. Thermal energy is absorbed by the soil during hot days and is used to heat the cool air driven underground during the night.”
Mr. Gates says the electric furnace provides additional heat and is a suitable alternative to gas-based furnaces since it doesn’t contribute to pollution or pose risk of a carbon monoxide leak.
The duo also collaborated with the grounds staff to develop a design tailored to support community-based food security and horticultural therapy goals.
“One of the main purposes for a new greenhouse is they wanted to add a space for community groups like The Gathering Place, Stella’s Circle and Her Majesty’s Penitentiary,” said Ms. Outerbridge, who is in her third year of the mechanical engineering program. “They could come and learn how to garden and grow vegetables and plants – a skill they can use later.”
Weekly progress meetings, remotely in the beginning phase of the project and later in-person, helped keep them on track. The students found it was less challenging than they initially thought it was going to be.
“I was surprised how easy it was to adapt to the new remote work environment,” said Mr. Gates. “Today’s technology made it easy.”
“Working remotely definitely improved my self-motivation skills and I don’t procrastinate as much anymore,” said Ms. Outerbridge. “These improvements will positively affect many aspects of my life.”