South Bay students use engineering skills to give back to community

Engineering students from San Jose State and Santa Clara University are giving back to the community. On Monday night, they showcased products and prototypes they designed and built themselves to help solve some of Silicon Valley’s problems.

Engineers of the future are putting their mechanical and computing skills to work, unveiling their latest innovations at San Jose State’s first-ever engineering expo.

The expo featured 15 projects from 75 students from San Jose State and Santa Clara University. It’s part of the EPICS program, which stands for engineering projects in community service. The projects are not just for show but will be used in their own backyard.

“I feel this gives the most back to the community,” said SJSU Mechanical Engineering Senior Garrett Fonseca. “The surrounding area in San Jose is definitely affected by homelessness.”

Fonseca’s team partnered with a homeless shelter in Gilroy, building 30 smart lockers equipped with a lock code and an electrical outlet so homeless individuals can charge smartphones and laptops.

“I put myself in their shoes” said Fonseca. “If I didn't have the basic needs such as electricity, I don't know how I would do on the streets.”

Another team built an underwater remote operated vehicle essentially a drone to help spot endangered fish in the Guadalupe River.

“We’re not able to get proper data on them because the river is so contaminated so researchers aren't able to get into the river. If they did they would get sick,” said SJSU Computer Engineering Senior Christian Lopez.

They’re collaborating with South Bay Creeks Coalition and IBM Research.

“It’s our responsibility as thought leaders to protect that and to set an example for the rest of the world that even though we care about technology,” said Lopez. “We care about the wildlife and natural habitats.”

Likely, the project to have the most impact is one from Santa Clara University. It’s already in the works to be used by the City of San Jose and the Water District. It’s a flood monitoring and warning system, using ultrasonic sensors mounted on bridges along creeks.

“They’ll be able to take a distance measurement from the bridge to the water level and it will let us know if the water is rising too much at a time,” said Santa Clara University Computer Engineering Junior Tai Groot.

The sensors that could be installed next month. Groot is hoping to prevent another disaster like the one in 2017 when the historic flooding hit San Jose.

“As a student it's nice to have your degree mean something,” said Groot. “To know already before you graduated your helping save lives potentially, that's a pretty good feeling.”

Both schools received $10,000 of additional funding from a professional engineering foundation.