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ASU's online engineering students present capstones remotely for first time.
April 28, 2017

ASU’s undergraduate degree in electrical engineering is the first accredited program that's completely web-based

Capstone presentations — the culmination of four years’ education in a project that demonstrates the breadth of hard-earned knowledge — are always nerve-wracking. Getting the display right, the demonstration without a hitch and the tie in a perfect Windsor knot all strain student nerves.

Now try doing it from 2,000 miles away.

Arizona State University’s undergraduate degree in electrical engineering is the first accredited program that is completely web-based. The first cohort of online students gave their capstone presentations Friday, along with all the other seniors.

The onliners (as they’re calling themselves) were easy to spot in the crowded room. Nobody stood around their display tables. Seventy-inch screens presented their projects. Team members interacted with visitors via videochat on laptops.

While hearing them over the hubbub in the room was difficult, their audio and video feeds worked well. (Next year, the onliners will be in a separate room.)

Team Cavalry presented the Calvary Band, a wearable device for police officers that detects the sound of a gunshot and automatically initiates a call for backup. Team members were in Seattle, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Lancaster, New York.

Heather Green, in Seattle, with her black cat on her lap, explained how they brought the project together literally coast to coast.

“Our team has met twice a week on Google Hangouts to update each other on our progress, issues and upcoming tasks to keep us on schedule,” Green said. “It's worked out really well! When we were fielding project ideas, our locations were something we kept in mind. (Team member) Rob (Crowe, in New York) thought of this idea initially, and it's been almost no issue to implement our design, even though the team is scattered. Companies do this sort of thing all the time now, and I think now that's going to be part of the college experience.”

Brennan Hallows, a senior in Price, Utah, was part of a team that built a greenhouse turbine generator. It uses direct sunlight to heat up air, which rises, spins a turbine and creates power. His team was spread between Iowa, Utah and two members in Surprise, Arizona.

The project was difficult, Hallows said, but they powered through it.

“We met multiple times a week,” Hallows said. “The project was constructed in Arizona. Me and Brad (Fritz, in Iowa) worked really hard on the design and calculations while the other two members did the construction and testing. It was a team effort that turned out successful.”

Because it is the first year remote electrical engineering majors presented their projects, there were hiccups.

“There have been a lot of challenges with today's presentation, but we expected the unexpected, because we're the first group of fully online engineering students to do this,” Green said. “There haven't been any real surprises; it seems unclear that the video embedded explains our project, and that the video needs to be played in order to get that explanation. I know (organizers) are talking about putting onliners in a separate room next time, so the background noise isn't so overwhelming to communication.”

Hallows said he realized his sales acumen dims with distance.

“The presentation is very difficult remotely,” Hallows said. “I am a much better salesman in person! It would be much easier to talk about the project in person, but ASU has done a very good job of making it as good as it can be from a remote location.”

The 120-credit-hour degree program includes core engineering courses and a minimum of 45 upper-division credit hours in specialty courses — including analog and digital circuits, electromagnetic fields, microprocessors, communications networks, solid-state electronics and electric power and energy systems. Lab work is done at home with mailed kits.


Top photo: Attendees listen to the presentation of Project Phoenix at the end-of-the-year Capstone Electrical Engineering Senior Design Projects on Friday. Project Phoenix designed a CubeSat system that can produce thermal images of major cities, to study their heat-island effect. Sixteen teams, half in the morning, presented their senior projects, with six of them being done by online students. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Grad seeks justice for the vulnerable and forgotten

April 29, 2017

Dean’s Medalist from School of Social Transformation headed to law school

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Growing up in the small town of Trabuco Canyon, California, justice studies major Caitlan Rocha lacked the opportunity to learn about diversity and experience how the “other half of the world” lived. Through a mixture of fate and luck, Rocha left Orange County and set to make an impact at Arizona State University by dedicating her time to studying societal injustices and learning how to create change.

When it comes to describing her time at ASU, the best way to put it is by using Rocha’s favorite quote: “If not us, who? If not now, when?” by John F. Kennedy, which embodies her attitude on life — the only way one can make an impact is by taking a stand today.

Rocha declared a degree in justice studies before arriving at ASU because of her interest in criminal justice and justice-related issues. At first, she questioned her decision and sought a degree in criminal justice to prepare for a career with the FBI. However, her plans quickly changed after completing an internship with the Arizona Justice Project, which motivated her to pursue a law degree.

This May, she will graduate with a bachelor of science in justice studies and a minor in women and gender studies, along with two certificates in English and socio-legal studies. She has excelled academically by maintaining a high GPA and earning the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s List each semester as well as dedicating her time to upholding multiple leadership positions at ASU.

From serving as a president and founder for organizations such as the ASU Pre-Law Society and the ASU Manzanita Pen Pal Program to mentoring students as a First-Year Success Coach and writing mentor for the SST Writing Mentorship Center to volunteering for the ASU Clothesline Project, she focused on making a difference in and out of the classroom.

Rocha also received several achievement awards such as the New American University Dean’s Award, the Russell L. Duncan Memorial Scholarship Award and earned second place for the ASU Writer’s Award. Her achievements and scholastic passion lead to her ultimately being admitted to the University of California-Berkeley School of Law for fall 2017.

Rocha, who is one of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' spring 2017 Dean’s Medalists, answered some questions about her experience at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I always had an inherent interest in criminal justice and justice, but I wasn’t sure how to best apply my career field. I got this amazing internship during the first semester of my sophomore year with the Arizona Justice Project, where you basically work on cases of the wrongfully convicted or people who are serving unjust sentences. People are dying who are innocent or people spend their whole lives in prison who are innocent — it’s unfair. The Arizona Justice Project internship made me sure I wanted to be a lawyer.  

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I would say one of the things that has been most disheartening that I have learned about and has surprised me is how easy it is to look 50 years ago and say, “We’ve made so much progress.” We still have a long way to go, and especially in terms of the recent election. Hearing all the rhetoric that so many people in America share is unfortunate. Learning about all the different ways people are systematically oppressed in every possible part of their lives from education to the cities they live in — that has been the most surprising and the saddest thing I’ve learned, but it’s also become what I care most about.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was the first in my family to go college and the first to apply. I had no assistance because my high school was poorly set up to assist you with those things, so I was just kind of winging on my own. I narrowed down to San Diego State and ASU. I went and saw San Diego State but just did not like it. I did not think it would be a good environment for me, and so I blindly chose ASU. I came here for orientation, and I just loved it. Now being here for four years and having been involved in everything at least once, I learned there’s so many opportunities here. I feel whole-heartedly that my degree is going to be worth so much more in 10 years with the trajectory that is going on now. I feel 100 percent this was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Every day while you are working or not, other people are working just as hard as you or harder. Everyone sort of fits into this mold, so you want to do everything you can to differentiate and diversify yourself. Work as hard as possible because it’s easy to lose sight of the goal.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Wilson Hall, third floor. I worked in the writing center for two years, and I love all the faculty and the School of Social Transformation. Whenever I have half an hour between classes, I’m up there on the third floor. Also, West Hall right outside on those benches overlooking Hayden Lawn. It’s just beautiful! 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m going to Berkeley in the fall — that’s my law school and dream school. I’m torn between my path because there’s so many things I care about like domestic violence, wrongful conviction, civil rights, etc. I’ve had a pretty concrete plan up to this point, but now I’m kind of letting life take its course.

However, after hearing Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak [she spoke at the Tempe campus in January], I have this calling to go into politics way down the line. If I could become a Supreme Court justice one day, that would be amazing. It’s the ultimate unachievable goal, but it can still happen. I want to lay a good foundation and be reputable about social justice issues. I want to build myself up as an esteemed attorney who cares about all these issues and then take that with me into politics.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I wanted to zero in on something that is a national issue and we should care far more about. And that would obviously be Flint, Michigan, and their water crisis. Getting them clean water, new pipes, reimbursement, medical expenses, everything that they have suffered due to lack of care, attention and media coverage. It’s just such an embarrassment for the United States to have them still not having clean water after all this time. I feel it’s easy to go international and think huge, but I think that we should also focus on what’s going on at home.

Written by Stephanie Romero/School of Social Transformation