Engineering project helps improve Thanksgiving for hundreds of Arizona families

November 21, 2017

Getting Thanksgiving dinner to run smoothly for one family can be enough of a challenge — the Agua Fria Food and Clothing Bank in Avondale needs it to go smoothly for an average of 500 Phoenix metro area families every year.

Three students in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering used the power of value engineering to help the food bank improve its process, winning them the University Challenge Award for Value Engineering from SAVE International. A group of students, faculty and community leaders pose for a photo. Construction engineering graduate student Xiao Xiao Lyu and construction management graduate students Monisa Manju Nagarajan Gomathi and Trey Tan won the SAVE International University Challenge Award for Value Engineering for their work helping to improve the process of Thanksgiving and Christmas food distribution at Agua Fria Food and Clothing Bank. Pictured (left to right): Faculty Associate and Construction Engineering Manager Chris Kmetty, Chairman of the Pebble Creek Community Church Mission Committee Edna DeFord, Kmetty Consulting Certified Value Specialist Géza Kmetty, students Xiao Xiao Lyu and Monisa Manju Nagarajan Gomathi, Faculty Associate and Certified Value Specialist Stephen Kirk and Agua Fria Food and Clothing Bank Executive Director Leanne Leonard. Photo by Monique Clement/ASU Download Full Image

Value engineering is a method of optimizing processes, projects or products, a methodology championed by the professional organization SAVE International. It is often applied in civil engineering to things like roads and bridges, but the award-winning student team in CON 598: Value Engineering course instead took a more human-centered approach to value engineering for the Agua Fria Food and Clothing Bank.

Construction management graduate students Monisa Manju Nagarajan Gomathi and Trey Tan and construction engineering graduate student Xiao Xiao Lyu evaluated the existing conditions at the food bank’s facilities and created design recommendations to improve work processes, food distribution and client satisfaction at big events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas meal distribution.

Instructor Stephen Kirk, who also works as a certified value specialist with Kirk Associates, was pleased by how the team applied the theory of value engineering to a real-world situation to benefit the community. Kirk complimented them on their compassion and caring for those who were in need of help and said he greatly appreciated their passion for helping improve the food-distribution process at Agua Fria.

At the end of the course when it came time to present their work, instructor Chris Kmetty knew the students had done something exceptional.

“The true value engineering really came out,” said Kmetty, who is also a construction engineering manager at Markham Contracting. “What [the team] was really doing was more for people than for anything else, and that’s what civil engineering really is — engineering for society.”

The unique, human-centered approach led instructors Kirk, Kmetty and Géza Kmetty, a civil engineer and certified value specialist for Kmetty Consulting, to submit the project for SAVE International’s University Challenge Award. The ASU team’s project was up against work submitted from universities around the world. Theirs was the only project focused on processes that help the community.

As part of their award, they were offered funds to help them get to SAVE International’s 2017 Value Summit in Philadelphia in August to present their work. Edd Gibson, director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, helped fund the rest of the students’ conference and travel costs.

Gomathi said she enjoyed seeing the other international teams’ applications of value engineering.

“We could see how people who work with value engineering methodologies were very passionate,” she said.

Gomathi said the team was excited to present their project to value engineering experts and they appreciated the feedback they received.

Lyu liked the conference’s lectures on a variety of topics related to value engineering, such as how it can be combined with data analysis to improve value engineering and make projects more efficient. All three students learned about how value engineering can make a difference in any type of industry, office or personal project.

Kirk presented Gomathi and Lyu with their University Challenge Award from SAVE International at an award presentation at ASU on Nov. 8. He also gave them the award announcement letter from SAVE International President Kathy Bethany, a book by value engineering “godfather” Alphonse Dell'Isola, his own book on enhancing value in design decisions and a copy of the Pebble Creek Community newspaper Highlighting the Pebble Creek Community Church that featured a front-page story on the students’ involvement at the food bank and their project.

The instructors were joined by Gibson, Agua Fria Food and Clothing Bank Executive Director Leanne Leonard and mission partner Edna DeFord from the Pebble Creek Community Church to congratulate the students on winning the award.

Leonard said he appreciated the unique perspective that construction engineers brought to the food bank’s operations.

“I was super pleased that they were willing to come and talk to and hear about the clients of the Southwest Valley,” Leonard said. “ I am incredibly proud of the work they did, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that will play out [this Thanksgiving] as we prepare to serve over 300 families.”

DeFord, who has been coordinating the church’s involvement in assisting the food bank’s distribution efforts during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays for more than 15 years, said it was interesting to hear the students’ ideas about improving their processes.

“It was just exciting to see that they were putting a name on what we’ve been doing all these years,” DeFord said.

In the spring CON 598: Value Engineering course, the instructors are hoping to bring out new and different solutions that focus on the people whom value engineering solutions aim to serve.

Leaders of the Phoenix Rescue Mission heard about the success of value engineering and reached out to Pebble Creek Community Church and ASU to assist them in a new project of their own.

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU students learn from the dead at Teotihuacan

November 22, 2017

Teotihuacan was once the largest and most influential city in the ancient new world. Yet its social structure seems to be more egalitarian than those in its fellow ancient cities.

“Most ancient societies had an elite class that lived in big houses and had big fancy tombs. Then you got the commoners living in little houses and their burials were very simple with no gravestones,” said Michael E. Smith, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. “You don’t seem to have that distinction at Teotihuacan.” Intern, Noah Livingston, looking at the Teo Mapping Project and pointing with a piece of obsidian Intern Noah Livingston looks at the Teo Mapping Project, pointing with a piece of obsidian. Download Full Image

Mesoamerican expert and archaeologist Smith is the director of the Teotihuacan Research Laboratory, an ASU-managed facility for on-site archaeological fieldwork to further understand ancient urban life. Smith is leading the lab’s new project, “Burials and Society at Teotihuacan.”

“At Teotihuacan, the standard residence was 10 times as big as an Aztec peasant house,” Smith said. “There’s something strange about the level of inequality being lower, and there seems to be a lot of prosperity. So maybe the burials will provide another perspective on this because we don’t have a good handle on how society was organized at Teotihuacan.”

A team of undergraduate students will be creating a database of the burials and offerings from the city, which has never been done before. They will analyze patterns of wealth, status and gender within the burials.

“I’ve always worked pretty heavily with undergrads,” Smith said. “I like working with undergrads because they’re just figuring out that they can do something beyond just learning knowledge from a book or from a class. I think the kinds of experiences and skills they’re getting are valuable in lots of ways.”

A picture of the Teotihuacan Mapping Project, a huge collection of maps of Teotihuacan and the structures

A picture of the Teotihuacan Mapping Project, a collection of maps of Teotihuacan and the structures

The students' potential discoveries can contribute to studies of our modern world, such as alternative governmental systems, how cities rise and fall, and the ways social practices change over time.

“No one has really looked at burials systematically, and we can learn a lot of things from the data of what was excavated,” Smith said. “It’s a source of information that hasn’t really been exploited.”

Emily Edmonds, an undergraduate student studying anthropology in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, is one of the students working on the research project. She processes the documentation side of the project by reading the materials that have been written on the burials already and using them to help guide the group’s data analysis.

“The project is probably going to go in a couple of different directions as we figure what, exactly, we are looking for,” Edmonds said. “Just doing some of this data analysis, I’m noticing we should be looking for certain things, or we need to fix a variable within it, and I think it’ll be really exciting when we get our own data.”

Another undergraduate working on the documentation portion of the project is Noah Livingston. As an anthropology student, he is grateful for the skills he is learning within the lab because he knows will help him in his future career.

“I’ve already gained a lot from this project,” Livingston said. “I find our research and Teotihuacan itself tremendously fascinating. I also enjoy being able to apply what I’ve been learning in my classes to a real archeological project. I get to gain experience in working on long-term research, from design onward.”

The project will continue into the spring semester with the undergraduate students compiling a comprehensive catalog of residential burials and their associated offerings at Teotihuacan.

“It’s sort of an experiment,” Smith said. “A project that is, in large part, run by undergraduates. I think the experience of doing research is really helpful because you’re not just learning something and remembering something; you have to figure out how things work and how to evaluate things, and it just has lots of aspects of learning an experience.”

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies