Before anyone realized that 2020 would mark the first-ever virtual Design Day, it was clear the event would be special: It was the first year the day was celebrated as part of the college’s new Craig M. Berge Engineering Design Program
Nov. 1, 2020

Craig M. Berge earned his degree in mechanical engineering from UArizona in 1957. After his passing in 2017, his family, including his wife and fellow UArizona alumna Nancy, made a generous gift to the college. The funds endowed a dean’s chair and named a program that provides hands-on design experiences for undergraduates at all levels.

“Craig loved to design and build things,” Nancy said in an opening message to students. “So I know he would cheer you on as you faced every obstacle this year. He’d smile at the creative solutions you came up with. And he’d be thrilled by your brilliant designs. But most of all, he would love the caring and support you’ve given each other. Craig had a big heart, and he cared for everybody. By helping one another and working together, you’ve made it to the end of this program that now bears his name.”

For nearly two decades, Engineering Design Day has been a celebration of seniors, who spend their yearlong capstone course designing and building technology for industry and university sponsors. When COVID-19 restrictions cut short timelines and eliminated in-person meetings for the Class of 2020, its members exemplified what good engineering is all about: creativity, ingenuity and unmatched problem-solving skills.

Physical distancing meant that students’ work was showcased and rewarded differently. 115 capstone teams submitted video presentations of their projects for evaluation by external judges and award sponsors. At the first virtual Design Day awards ceremony on May 5, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Jim Baygents announced the winners of $44,750 in prizes.

“After these numerous unprecedented challenges, Design Day is a celebration,” said David Hahn, Craig M. Berge dean of the college, welcoming more than 450 online attendees. “It’s a celebration of your success, and of the Wildcat spirit.”

“We did not let what we had accomplished in person together go to waste.”

The winners of the $7,500 Craig M. Berge Dean’s Award for Most Outstanding Project created a device to improve a surgical procedure on the tibia, for sponsor company Paragon 28. Other biomedical projects included a method for gathering data about epileptic seizures and a virtual reality system to combat eating disorders.

Many projects also focused on sustainability, including a renewable off-grid energy system, a plan for creating vertical vegetable farms in abandoned shopping malls and a method for creating bricks for emergency shelters out of recycled plastic.

“When COVID-19 became a global pandemic, we had to stop our prototyping, and we quickly switched to a paper process and paper brick design,” said chemical engineering student Stanley Wong. “However, we did not let what we had accomplished in person together go to waste. A lot of our process is based off the results we were able to obtain from prototyping.”

“This project has prepared me for life after school, as I’ve learned professional, social and academic skills that will have an impact on my professional career,” said biomedical engineering student Alejandro Ortega. “I also learned the value of getting out of your comfort zone to achieve great things.”

Story by Emily Dieckman