Coffee Cherries
Sheree Curry / University of St. Thomas

Engineering Seniors Overcome Adversity to Assist With Real-world Challenges

In the farming communities in and surrounding the Cuzco area of Peru, there are coffee farmers seeking to increase their yield and their profits. They were assisted this year by four University of St. Thomas School of Engineering seniors who traveled to the Andes Mountains of Peru during their winter break to put their engineering ingenuity to the test. 

Engineering seniors demonstrate coffee cherries at design clinic
Engineering students at the Senior Design Clinic demonstrate how coffee cherries are de-pulped.
Sheree Curry / University of St. Thomas

Known as Team 9, or the “Coffee De-Pulper Durability” team for their Senior Design Clinic project, Sean Carey, Ashley Haus, Allie Kepner and Ethan Petersilka observed the farmers’ coffee bean harvesting and roasting processes. One of the steps the farmers take is using a machine to separate the coffee cherry from the actual bean.

One problem the students observed came from when the farmers needed to transport the de-pulper machine for maintenance. The farmers lived two hours from any roads and would need to use mules to help haul the machines. The students redesigned the de-pulper to increase the longevity of the machine, reduce the frequency of maintenance and create an easier on-site cleaning process.

Sponsored by the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development and advised by Professor Brittany Nelson-Cheeseman, Team 9 gave a demonstration of the de-pulper during the Senior Design Clinic show held May 6 at St. Thomas.

"The program we created with the University of St. Thomas is impactful because the students work intensively with us both in Peru and back at St. Thomas and we have benefitted from a significant commitment from the engineering program," said Aaron Ebner, the executive director of the Andean Alliance, which has been hosting St. Thomas engineering students since 2019. "We work with a lot of universities in the states and I think the St. Thomas program is unique and offers exceptional value for students' education and provides a very useful set of skills that we see paying off in Peru with local farmers."

Nearly 40 companies and nonprofit organizations engage St. Thomas Senior Design Clinic students each year with real-world engineering challenges. The students, with representatives from their sponsors, including 3M, Northrop Grumman, Toro and others, showcase their work on campus just ahead of graduation. This year was the first year the students were back presenting in person after virtual presentations the last two years due to the pandemic.

Engineering seniors Xavier Thurman '22 (center) and Ian Masui '22 (right) of Team 24 explain their microgrid concept to visitors to the School of Engineering Senior Design show at the Anderson Student Center on May 6, 2022, St. Paul. (Liam James Doyle / University of St. Thomas)

“With the past several years of adversity faced with the pandemic, war, and racial reckoning in our communities, the challenges our students have overcome have been amplified,” said School of Engineering Dean Don Weinkauf. “On reflection, each student can take stock in the character traits of resiliency, perseverance, courage, patience, tolerance, and wisdom gained by facing both the adversities inherent in project design and the external adversities brought on by so many of the current events in our lives.”

This year there were 35 projects. Open slideshow to learn more about the projects of some of the teams.

Senior Design Clinic Students in Peru