Students design solar-charging station in round-the-clock contest

While many of their fellow students were sleeping in over winter break, 17 SMU students came back to school in January before classes resumed for a “no grades” design project that delivered a design solution they called “ModPod” for sponsoring partners at Better Block Foundation and Good Faith Energy.

The challenge was to design a flat-pack (think about what comes in an assemble-it-yourself box from IKEA) solar charging station that urban dwellers can use for mobile devices like cell phones and laptops.  Better Block Foundation uses a human-centered approach to offer consulting, tools and support for the prototyping of initiatives that can help develop more livable neighborhoods, so designing for them means coming up with simple designs that can work on sidewalks and in parks.  Good Faith Energy is a North Texas solar energy provider, and the company donated $500 to help cover students’ costs.

As the clock begins to tick, students in these Immersive Design Challenges start brainstorming, designing, building small models and learning to “fail forward.”  No worries, though, because learning and adapting from mistakes is part of the process where participants quickly adjust and repeat rapid prototypes to overcome obstacles and drive toward better solutions.

Students self-sort into teams that focus on what they can best contribute – from computer-aided design, to physical construction with traditional power tools, to operation of a 3-D printer, to making the final presentations that “sell” the design to the sponsors.  It is this divide-and-conquer approach that draws SMU students from programs and majors all over campus.

The final design that emerged from the January competition is a curvy plywood design that can be snapped together and function as a vertical piece, or a horizontal unit that can be used as a bench. Modular additions can be snapped on to allow the mounting of solar panels, a battery pack, power outlet, even a method for locking your bike and phone. You can watch a time-lapse video of the students assembling the prototype.

ModPod now becomes part of Better Block Foundation’s wikiblock, an open-source toolkit of designs for urban furniture-like benches, planters and bus stops that are available for free download.   The common denominator for all of the wikiblock designs is that parts are crafted out of plywood cut with a computer-assisted router, and most can be assembled without glue or nails “to make a block better.”

“Dream it. Print it.  Build it. Live it.”  That’s the wikiblock mantra.

Immersive Design Challenges are hosted throughout the year in the Deason Innovation Gym, nicknamed “the DIG,” in SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering.  These competitions are a big draw for engineering students, of course, but are open to students from all majors and minors, resulting in the kind of inter-disciplinary teams that successful businesses have learned are the best incubators for good ideas.

Students have to apply for a spot on the team.  They don’t earn any class credit, and the participants have to be willing to give up a holiday or between-semesters break to get uninterrupted access to the DIG. They work round-the-clock (sleeping bags, junk food, lots of Red Bull) to design, prototype and build solutions to design challenges that come to the University from real-world businesses and non-profits.

So, you have to ask, why do it?   For SMU first-year computer engineering student Sunjoli Aggarwal, getting to spend more time in the DIG was the big draw.  She’d taken a class in fall 2016 that allowed her to spend a little time working in the big makerspace on the ground level of Caruth Hall, but not nearly enough.

“I felt that everyone in the DIG was extraordinarily skilled and always seemed to know exactly what they were working on, and so I wanted to reach a point where I felt comfortable going to the DIG,” Sunjoli explained.  The application form for the Immersive Design Competition emphasized that no previous experience with DIG tools was necessary, so she took a leap of faith and signed up to participate.

“The experience was amazing! The most fun times were when some of us would stay at the DIG until midnight, blasting music, working hard, and having fun out of our excitement about the project,” Sunjoli said.  Getting to meet and work with their business partners from Good Faith Energy and Better Block Foundation made the whole experience even better, she said, because they were working for a purpose.

Sunjoli found that her presentation skills were valuable to the team, and you can see how she explained part of the project to an audience that included sponsors Better Block Foundation and Good Faith Energy on the last day of the competition.

What happens next?

Better Block Foundation will upload the cutting guides and assembly instructions for the plywood pieces to its wikiblock to make the plans available, open-source, for communities to use for streetscape improvement projects.  Some of the students who are interested in the solar component of the design will move forward with its development with Good Faith Energy, and hopefully a manufacturing partner, to make a marketable and publicly accessible, plug-and-play solar generator.

The next Immersive Design Challenge in the Deason Innovation Gym is expected at the end of the spring 2017 semester.

– By Kim Cobb

2017-02-28T11:28:24+00:00 February 28, 2017|News, Photo and Video Gallery|

SMU defeats Cincinnati at Moody Coliseum

The 25th-ranked Mustangs took a slight lead in the American Athletic Conference standings with their 60-51 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday, February 12.

  • Watch a video from SMU News’ Myles Taylor featuring the record crowd at Moody Coliseum.
  • Also, SMU announces the 2017 football schedule: Mark your calendars, including for Family Weekend 2017, when SMU will take on Arkansas State on September 23.
2017-02-14T17:09:14+00:00 February 13, 2017|News, Photo and Video Gallery|

Taking precautions against the flu

SMU health officials remind students, faculty and staff to take precautions against the flu and help prevent its spread by getting a flu shot.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that people who have not yet gotten a flu shot do so, with flu activity increasing across the country and expected to continue in coming weeks. The Dr. Bob Smith Health Center is seeing an increase in students exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

Free flu shots, while supplies last, are available to SMU students at the Dr. Bob Smith Health Center from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Students should bring their SMU ID to the Health Center.

Additional precautions

  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer frequently, especially after touching common surfaces such as door handles. Cover your mouth with either a disposable tissue or a sleeve when coughing or sneezing, and avoid touching your face. Avoid contact with people who are sick. Get plenty of rest to keep the immune system working at its best.
  • Be aware of flu symptoms. Flu symptoms include fever with cough or sore throat, and sometimes runny nose, body aches, headache, vomiting or diarrhea.

What to do if sick with the flu

  • Stay home and limit contact with others until you no longer have a fever (a temperature of less than 100.5 F) for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • Seek medical attention if experiencing acute symptoms such as body aches, cough or a fever of more than 100.5 F.
  • Students with the flu should email their professors as soon as possible and let them know they have the flu.
  • If symptoms get worse after you have been on medication for three or four days, return to your healthcare provider to make sure you have not developed a secondary infection.
  • Those with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, or those who experience complications should call the Health Center at 214-768-2141.

To order meals for pickup by a friend

Resident students who have flu-like symptoms may order meals by phone from Arnold Dining Commons or Lee at the Umphrey Lee Center and have a friend pick up the meals from the location. Students who are ill may order food off the menu of the day, including soup.

Students should provide their name and ID number when calling. The meals will be deducted from their meal plan.

To order a meal, please call:

  • Arnold Dining Commons: Matt Thompson, 803-235-6881
  • Lee: Thomas Hermanson, 214-768-3922

If unable to reach either number, call Jonathan Tyson, 214-213-3340.

For more information about the flu

  • Contact the Health Center, 214-768-2141
  • Visit


2017-01-25T15:19:07+00:00 January 25, 2017|Health and Safety, News|

SMU mourns the death of Vice President for Student Affairs

Pamela D. Anthony, SMU vice president for student affairs, died Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, surrounded by family members, friends and colleagues in Dallas after a battle with cancer.

Remembering Pamela D. Anthony

Arrangements for funeral and campus memorial services are pending with the family.

“Dr. Anthony was a leader in the field of student affairs who devoted her career to students’ well-being and academic and personal growth,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “At SMU, she served as a mentor to many while focusing on students’ campus life and educational experiences, including in the areas of health and wellness, multicultural affairs and residential life. We grieve this profound loss of a friend and colleague, and we offer our condolences and prayers to Dr. Anthony’s family and loved ones.”

Dr. Anthony became vice president for student affairs at SMU on February 1, 2016. She oversaw areas including the Office of the Dean of Student Life; Residence Life; women’s, LGBT, multicultural, volunteer and leadership programs; student activities; student conduct; campus ministries; health and wellness programs; career services; the Hughes-Trigg Student Center and the Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports. In fall 2016 she led the dedication and opening of the Dr. Bob Smith Health Center.

In a May interview, Dr. Anthony said, “When I think about this work, I feel very called to work with students, to develop students and to make sure that they’re having a good experience in college.”


2017-01-23T09:43:56+00:00 January 19, 2017|News|

Students embark for Washington for course on inaugural address

When Donald Trump is sworn in as 45th President of the United States on Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C., 21 SMU students will be in the crowd to witness the first chapter of what comes next as part of an SMU course on presidential inaugural addresses.

SMU Students go to 2017 Inauguration

“You think about some of the great speeches in American history, and so many of them come from presidents on that inaugural stage,” said William Hagens, a junior political communications and political science double major who aspires to one day work as a political campaign manager.

“This is in line with a lot of the other opportunities I’ve had through the communications program here at SMU,” Hagens added. “I wasn’t surprised this opportunity existed. I’m looking forward to seeing something historic.”

Every four years, SMU faculty organize a class around the inauguration of the president. This year’s course is being organized and taught by Christopher Salinas, director of public discourse in the Division of Communication Studies.

“This is one of those unique experiences you want from college,” Salinas said. “Years from now, students won’t remember everything that happened in the classroom, but they will remember this. For the rest of their lives, they will remember they were at a presidential inaugural address.”

Students were encouraged to contact their congressional representatives to request the highly sought-after tickets they share with constituents. They students will also be able to watch a live-stream of the event from the public area in the National Mall, further from the stage.

In addition to attending the inaugural address, students will also attend an SMU alumni event and the Texas Society’s inaugural ball on the 19th, where they’ll get a taste of Washington, D.C.’s famous ballroom society.

Participants signed up for the course in early fall, well before the election’s outcome was decided. That means that not every student participating in the course supported the winning candidate, but none of them turned down the opportunity to attend the historic event.

“I was not a Trump supporter, but this is an event that’s too big and too special to pass up,” said Spencer Gutierrez, a philosophy and political communications double major with law school aspirations.

“Trump’s presidency … we don’t know what will happen, so everyone wants to say, ‘I was there when it all started,’” Gutierrez added. “Not many people get to see an inauguration in their lifetime.”

2017-01-10T13:37:45+00:00 January 10, 2017|News|

Residential Commons: Homes for the holidays and final exams

For college students, the holiday season is a time of contrasts as celebrations take place just before students fill the libraries preparing for finals.

In SMU’s Residential Commons, home to more than 2,000 first-year and sophomore students, faculty, staff and student leaders help create a community that encourages students to embrace the holiday season and successfully prepare for finals.

With the help of student leadership, each Commons celebrates the holidays as a community, with activities and events ranging from door-decorating contests, to attending a performance in Dallas’ Arts District, to collecting toys for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.  Faculty members who live in the Commons open their kitchens for holiday baking and dress their pets in holiday wear for photos. Ugly sweater contests, international feasts, holiday movie marathons, cookie decorating and ornament-making are part of the celebrations, along with some unique events. Students in one Commons are decorating gingerbread houses, with a socioeconomic twist. Others are using SMU’s Deason Innovation Design Gym to laser cut special decorations.

The holiday spirit extends to one of the most stressful times of university life – finals. Beginning with the first day of finals, Dec. 8, Commons leaders enforce 24-hour quiet hours and provide snacks for study breaks. Pancake-suppers, pet therapy with residence kittens and dogs, hot chocolate send-offs to exams and even massages are planned to help reduce finals stress.

SMU introduced the Residential Commons model in August 2014 to 11 residence halls, integrating the academic, residential and social aspects of university life. Live-in faculty and staff members, resident assistants and other student leaders work together to create communities of support.

For more information, visit

– Nancy George

Decorating for the holidays at Boaz Commons

Decorating for the holidays at Boaz Commons

2016-12-08T15:39:08+00:00 December 6, 2016|News|

Retired Dallas police chief to present Commencement address

David Brown

David O. Brown

Retired Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown will present the address at SMU’s December Commencement at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, in Moody Coliseum. A Dallas native and a 33-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, he gained national attention for his handling of a gunman’s July ambush of five police officers who died working to protect participants in a downtown Dallas protest march.

Brown, who retired Oct. 4, was sworn in as Dallas’ 28th police chief in May 2010, commanding a department with more than 4,000 employees and an annual operating budget of $426 million dollars.

Building and maintaining strong, transparent relationships with the community was Brown’s focus since becoming chief. During his tenure, Brown transitioned the department to a community policing-focused organization and implemented policies and training to ensure citizen and officer safety. He also expanded several community outreach programs and youth centered programs.

Brown implemented policies and training to ensure citizen and officer safety during interactions, and emphasized the importance of de-escalation training for his officers. Under Brown’s leadership, the Dallas Police Department reduced the use of deadly force by more than 40 percent and reduced excessive force complaints by more than 80 percent.

Read more from SMU News.

2016-12-21T11:45:36+00:00 December 5, 2016|News|

Celebration of Lights makes holidays bright

celebration-of-lights-23228d_030_rtSMU will brighten the holiday season at its annual lighting ceremony, Celebration of Lights, at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 28, on the Main Quad. The ceremony will feature student musicians performing songs of the season, SMU President R. Gerald Turner reading the Christmas story from the New Testament and the lighting of the SMU Christmas tree. The celebration ends with participants bathed in the light of the candles they hold as they sing “Silent Night.” The public is invited to attend and enjoy hot cider and cookies before the ceremony begins.

The annual event is sponsored by SMU’s Student Foundation and supported by the Michael F. Miller Endowment for the Celebration of Lights.

2016-11-28T15:53:51+00:00 November 28, 2016|News|

SMU graduate awarded prestigious Marshall Scholarship

Rahfin Faruk

Rahfin Faruk

SMU graduate Rahfin Faruk has received a prestigious Marshall Scholarship. The highly selective scholarship is awarded each year to up to 40 intellectually distinguished Americans to advance knowledge in the scholars’ chosen fields and to promote understanding of Britain.

Faruk earned Bachelor’s degrees from SMU in economics, political science, public policy and religious studies in 2015, graduating summa cum laude. A President’s Scholar, he was selected to serve as the voting student member of the SMU Board of Trustees. He led the University’s student newspaper, The Daily Campus, and the Tower Center Student Forum, where students examine politics and public policy. In 2014 he was one of only 59 U.S. college students awarded a Truman Scholarship, which recognizes “change agents” who are committed to public service.

As a Marshall Scholar, Faruk will pursue Master’s degrees in development finance at the University of Reading and in comparative social policy at the University of Oxford. He intends to focus on financial inclusion, ensuring that individuals, particularly the most vulnerable, and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs in an ethical and sustainable way.

“I am incredibly humbled to receive this opportunity to study in the United Kingdom and thank the British people for this scholarship,” Faruk said. “My life’s goal is to create an economically and financially inclusive world, which I believe can beget socioeconomic progress in critical areas like education, health and housing. With the support of the Marshall Scholarship, I will explore how different technologies, models and approaches can transform painful paradoxes – like the poorer you are, the more you pay – for billions of people.”


2016-12-08T15:44:53+00:00 November 28, 2016|News|

Students to serve across North Texas for Stampede of Service

On Saturday, November 12, SMU community members will serve at nonprofit organizations across North Texas as part of Stampede of Service, a campus-wide community service day.

Stampede of Service is organized by SMU’s Community Engagement and Leadership Center (CEL), in partnership with SMU Fraternity and Sorority Life, and eight Dallas nonprofit organizations: Dallas Afterschool, Dallas-Area Habitat for Humanity, Dolphin Heights Community Garden, The Family Place, Heart House, LIFT, Mount Auburn Elementary and We Over Me Farm.

“Through Stampede of Service, students will gain experience through hands-on, educational service work,” says Rashad Givhan, assistant director of the Community Engagement and Leadership Center. “Volunteers also have the opportunity to make a positive, sustainable impact in Dallas by responding to community-identified needs through our partner nonprofit organizations.”

More than 150 students, staff and faculty members are expected to participate. Follow the hashtag #SMUserves on Instagram – and on Twitter –

– Camden Moore

2016-11-11T17:02:13+00:00 November 11, 2016|News|
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