Students receive state and national recognition

Students often hear they must gain real-world experience in their chosen fields before leaving college. For a group of USF engineering students, this chance came in the form of state- and national-level design competitions, sponsored by the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and its state chapter, the Florida Water Environment Association (FWEA).

What began as a participation in USF professor Audrey Levine’s capstone design course developed into a student entry into a state-level engineering competition.

“The design competition is usually sponsored, and we obtain a project every year,” said Christine Miranda, student activities chair for FWEA. “This past (state competition), which USF took first place in, was for the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA).”

The JEA was looking for solutions to problems it was having with the quality of water discharged into the St. John’s River from the Royal Lakes Wastewater Treatment Plant, Levine said.

“In Florida, a lot of water bodies have excess nutrients in them, and the nutrients cause algae to grow,” Levine said. “The classic example is the Everglades. There’s excess nutrients in the Everglades, and that’s causing changes in habitat. So what is going on is a lot of wastewater plants have new limits that they have to meet to try to reduce the amount of nutrients that are discharged into the environment.”

The students helped Royal Lakes Wastewater Treatment Plant figure out how to reduce the amount of nutrients in the water it was pumping into the St. John’s River.

“(The students) looked at different options for this particular wastewater treatment plant,” Levine said. “The options they looked at were to decommission the plant and divert all the wastewater to a different facility that is owned by the same utility. Then they looked at the possibility of upgrading the treatment plant so that it could indeed meet these limits for nitrogen. Then the third thing they looked at was to upgrade the plant so the water could be used as reclaimed water.”

The state and national competition formats are similar, according to Miranda.

“At the conference itself, the schools compete where they first have to give a written submittal, which is judged, and then there is a presentation, which is done at the competition,” Miranda said.After defeating UF, UM, UCF and FAU at the state-level competition last April in Jacksonville, the group set its sights on the national-level design competition in Washington, D.C.

According to Levine, the national- level competition involved different projects for each of the four finalists. The students worked out all the details necessary to make their presentation more accessible to a nationally minded audience.

The national competition ended much like the state competition. USF was chosen as the winner of WEF’s National 2005 Student Design Competition over teams from Virginia Tech, North Dakota State University and the University of Wisconsin at Platteville.

The USF team received prizes for both competitions with a total value of $10,500, according to Levine. The JEA has decided to follow the advice of the USF team and is implementing a plan much like the one USF students developed at the Royal Lakes Water Treatment Plant.

“The USF team, in both the state- and national-level competitions, made the (FWEA) organization very proud,” Miranda said. “Their presentation was very professional and very well put together.”

For the students, the project and competitions provided a great opportunity.

“I think that the environmental (engineering) students benefited a lot from it, because up until that point, all our classes were based on theory and stuff we read out of books,” said Melody Nocon, a graduate student who participated in the project. “We had taken field trips before, but not where we actually got to do something hands on that a real engineer would do.”

Levine had nothing but praise for her students’ work on this project and the state and national competitions. Levine said her class next semester will attempt to come out on top.

“The students in the class this year have a pretty high bar to meet because I hadn’t done this before, but we’re going for it again,” she said.