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

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.

Come home to SMU Homecoming Nov. 3-6

peruna-leapingMustang Band members are practicing Big Band tunes for Pigskin Revue, construction is underway on parade floats, and Mustang football players are aiming for a victory over Memphis. Time to load up the car and come home to SMU Nov. 3-6 for Homecoming 2016.

Plans include concerts, walking tours, exhibits, open houses, events for graduates of individual schools, mini-reunions and worship services. Visit for details; below are some highlights.

UPDATE: See photos from Homecoming 2016.

Continue reading “Come home to SMU Homecoming Nov. 3-6”

Tune in: It all starts at Mustang Corral!

SMU welcomed new students to the Hilltop in August with five days of learning, bonding and exploring their new home. Throughout the week, University reporters and photographers captured the Class of 2020 at Mustang Corral and in the Discover Dallas program.

Opening Convocation

Now their photos, social media posts, and a new video by SMU News’ Myles Taylor are gathered at one link. Visit SMU News for many more dispatches from Move-in Day, Camp Corral, the 2016 Opening Convocation, the making of the class photo and more.

> Relive the SMU Class of 2020’s week of welcome here

A Mustang welcome to the Class of 2020!

29020094786_b5f86c76cb_zSMU welcomes new students to campus Wednesday, August 17, at Mustang Corral 2016, a five-day University orientation for first-year and transfer students. It begins on move-in day, Wednesday, Aug. 17, and ends with the close of Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 21.

Wednesday, Aug. 17,
Move-in Day for First Year Students, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

First-year students check in at their residential commons any time between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., then unload at the designated area for each commons. Orientation leader Jac Mann-McCullick offers tips for a smooth move-in. Expect to be greeted by friendly volunteers with giant rolling bins ready to be filled with living essentials. Volunteers will help unload cars and roll students’ belongings to their rooms.

Orientation leader Sara Whiteley suggests incoming Mustangs remember seven key items for commons living: rain boots and umbrella, shower shoes, desk lamp, step stool, extra long phone charger, detergent pods and – excitement! Click here to learn more.

After move-in, families are invited to family barbecues at Arnold Dining Commons, Umphrey Lee Dining Commons and the Mack Ballroom in Umphrey Lee.

Corral kick-off officially begins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Moody Coliseum. Time for families to say good bye and for students to meet their Corral Round Up group – 12 to 15 fellow students from their residential commons and an upper class student leader. Later students will gather at their residential commons to kick off each commons’ unique traditions, gatherings and activities.

Thursday, Aug. 18, 19
Discover Dallas and Camp Corral

First thing Thursday morning students will load buses for “Discover Dallas,” 24 different tours to introduce entering students to their new hometown. Students select destinations ranging from the Dallas Zoo to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science to explore on a morning field trip. Kayaking on White Rock Lake and touring the AT&T Stadium are among the most popular. Students also can select community service sites, including the North Texas Food Bank and Goodwill. Here is a sample of the places students will visit:

  • Visiting Paul Quinn College neighborhood farm
  • Ice skating at Dallas Stars Center
  • Touring Dallas Federal Reserve and meeting Dallas Fed official
  • Visiting Sixth Floor Museum
  • Racing go-karts as a lesson in physics
  • Exploring the Dallas Arts District
  • Experiencing the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Thursday afternoon after Discover Dallas, students will head to Camp Corral, a two-day, one-night camp at a retreat center just outside of Dallas. Students will have the opportunity to interact with other incoming and upper class students while learning about the SMU community. Highlights are the opportunities to meet faculty and staff, getting to know one another, the Club Corral dance and, this year, a giant slip n’ slide. Camp Corral wraps up back on campus Friday, Aug. 19, at Ford Stadium with a candlelight ceremony.

class-of-2020-photo-135x100ratioSaturday, Aug. 20,
Class photo, Night at the Club

The Class of 2020 will gather on Saturday morning on the main quad for a class photo in the shape of a giant 2020. The day wraps up with Night at the Club at the Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports, an introduction to the hundreds of clubs, community service groups and campus activities for students. Still wondering about Corral? Orientation leader Taylor Vinson explains at “It All Starts at Corral.”

Sunday, Aug. 21,
University Worship, Common Reading, Rotunda Passage and Convocation

Sunday is the grand finale of Mustang Corral.  It begins with University worship in the morning, and the Common Reading discussions of Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, in the afternoon.

Common Reading is a back-to-school tradition at SMU, which includes small group discussions about a different book selected each year by SMU faculty and staff. Corral leader Jacqueline Mann-McCullick urges, “Read it because the book has something valuable to teach you.” She has shared in a blog post her experience reading Just Mercy and being prepared for discussion as the first academic assignment of a student’s career. Author Bryan Stevenson will present a free lecture on campus at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, at McFarlin Auditorium.

Mustang Corral ends and the official academic year begins Sunday evening at 5:30 p.m. with Rotunda Passage, a processional march through Dallas Hall’s Rotunda to Opening Convocation, the ceremonial gathering in McFarlin Auditorium where new first-year and transfer students are formally welcomed to SMU by faculty and administrators. Steven C. Currall, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs, will present remarks.

For More Information: