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Engineer's education straddles globe, cultures | May 2007

When Manar Wadi walked across Lake Superior State University’s Commencement stage last May, she almost thought she could hear the cheers of friends and family in New Jersey, Germany, and Tunisia. A few minutes later, she literally heard cheers when her parents called by cell phone from her hometown of East Jerusalem to say that they saw the whole ceremony on LSSU’s Internet telecast.

“That’s when it dawned on me how hard I worked to get to this point,” says Manar. She ceased to be the young high school student who had never been outside of Europe and the Middle East. She was now a full-fledged computer engineer who had mastered a new language (American idiom) and evolved a stronger sense of self-identity, both as a young Palestinian professional and a devout Muslim.

“I could have gone to a larger US school, or one in Europe closer to home, but I chose Lake State for reasons of strength and a challenge,” says Manar.

Strengths included the types of programs LSSU offered for a school its size and the caliber of faculty. Another plus was family: Manar’s sister, a trained biologist who has just finished a Master’s in health management, lives in the Sault as the wife of a local oncologist. Relatively close metro Detroit also offered a rich Arab-American community that included some friends and an extended family in nearby Ann Arbor.

The challenge of coming to LSSU was more personal.

Manar Wadi
AN ENGINEER’S TOUCH - Newly-minted computer engineer Manar Wadi poses with the controller she adapted to run a plasma cutter in one of Lake Superior State University’s manufacturing technology labs. Her senior project capped four years of hard work at Lake Superior State for Wadi, who plans to start this fall with a telecommunications company in her home town of East Jerusalem. (LSSU photo by John Shibley)

“I really wanted to see if I could successfully bridge two cultures while keeping my own solid identity,” says Manar. “I wanted to help myself, as well as others around me, overcome barriers of culture and prejudgment that separate us. This was one major goal of my college experience, and LSSU offered a perfect environment to do this.”

Manar constantly wears the hijab, a traditional Muslim head covering that represents a devotion to her values. In Islamic scholarship, the hijab holds meanings of modesty, privacy, and morality . . . concepts that Manar feels define her character.

“Deep down there’s something beautiful and dignified about the hijab,” she says. “In Islam, modesty in dress, complemented by internalized modesty, adds a beautiful aspect to one’s life and personality. For women in particular, the hijab secures personal liberty in a world that objectifies women.”

Wearing the hijab also provided Manar with a not-so-modest means to stand out at LSSU and be recognized as a Muslim.

“It granted me an opportunity, and the responsibility, to strive to portray Islam in its true form, especially during a time when misinformation and stereotypes about Islam and Muslims abound,” she says.

Manar never shied away from explaining to her fellow students what it means to be a Muslim.

This past spring, she organized a forum that brought to campus the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. His evening lecture included an extensive follow-on discussion session that involved not only the university community, but people from Sault Michigan and Ontario as well.

One misconception that typically falls after discussion is the notion that women in most Islamic societies are discouraged from entering professions dominated by men, such as engineering, the vocation that Manar has selected. This paucity is still quite common in the U.S., even in contrast to what Manar sees in contemporary Arab countries.

“One thing that surprised me when I came to school here in the States was that there are still very few female students in engineering programs. Back home in the Palestinian universities, you can find a decent number of women engineers,” she notes.

Manar recalls her internship last summer with the United Arab Emirates-based telecommunications company PALTEL as another example. Five out of seven engineers she worked with on a project team were women.

“So, being a woman engineer doesn’t create any obstacles or awkwardness whatsoever to me pursuing a career in Palestine or any of the Arab countries in the Middle East,” she says. “In fact, I just received a job offer by Etisalat in Dubai. This shows that women professionals do have job opportunities in the Middle East.”

PALTEL is where Manar plans to start her career this coming September. Her first task will probably be to design cellular telephone and wireless data networks in her congested hometown of East Jerusalem.

Manar acknowledges that not all countries offer women a fair shot at pursuing a career. Still, she chalks that up to societal, rather than religious, preferences.

“In Islam, women are encouraged and obliged to learn and seek knowledge, and their education is considered to be as important and valuable as that of men,” she says.

Even in the West, it is still a driving and pertinent goal to encourage women to go into typically male-dominated vocations. Lake Superior State still offers a popular engineering science camp dedicated to girls, funded by state and federal grants.

Manar credits her family for steering her towards an engineering career.

“My parents have always valued education and encouraged us to travel and earn high educational levels, whatever that takes,” says Manar. “My interests in mathematics and electronics, as well as in traveling and exploring cultures, led me to major in computer engineering in the States.”

So, what is the biggest hurdle in clearing the barriers between cultures?

“The key is mutual understanding, and rejecting this theory of ‘clash of civilizations’,” says Manar. “Islam is great, it’s just that sometimes Muslims, being human, are not always great. As with any other faith or culture, Muslims and non-Muslims need to build the foundations for understanding each other.”

In her own personal way, over the past three years, Manar Wadi has engineered a foundation that spans the globe and bridges beliefs, right here at Lake Superior State. Who knows what bridges she will continue to raise in the coming years.

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Electrical engineering alumnus lives robonauts and rovers | Spring 2007

Space Shuttle launch
FINAL MILESTONE CLEARED – The Space Shuttle Discovery clears smoke and steam as it heads into orbit on a Space Station assembly mission last December. A satellite-deployment tool on board that LSSU alum Tom Waligora helped build will later work flawlessly during the mission. Waligora graduated from LSSU four years ago with a degree in electrical engineering.  (NASA)

Tom Waligora’s creativity has launched satellites into Earth orbit and may someday help humans explore the Moon and Mars. If that is not cool enough, the 2003 Lake Superior State University electrical engineering graduate has even mingled with the likes of Steven W. Hawking, the famous physicist. However, Waligora knows when it’s time to wipe the stars from his eyes and return to a world that runs on deadlines.

“Right now I am working on a next-generation 5,800-pound rover through NASA’s R&D robotics group,” says Waligora. “The plan is to build three vehicles, the last of which must be ready for desert tests this November at Meteor Crater, Arizona.”

The prototype rover shakes out the technology required for remotely controlled or completely autonomous rovers that will follow astronauts around on walks around other words, like loyal pack animals carrying gear and essential supplies.

 “The first rover is approximately 90% complete and is a simplified version that will be used as a test bed for subsystems such as motor drivers and active suspension,” says Waligora. “The second rover is a more complete vehicle for verifying that the systems can work together.”

It’s the latest in a series of projects that Waligora has thrown himself into since being hired two years ago by the space systems division (OSS) of Oceaneering Advanced Technologies. The Houston-based company designs everything from hardware for Shuttle and Space Station astronauts to use on EVAs, to intricate mechanisms that eject satellites into orbit from the Space Shuttle or other rockets.

Other OSS specialties include thermal protection systems for rockets, and robotic systems for military, space, and biological research The company supports astronaut training in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory and Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center in Clear Lake, Texas.

His first company project was a microsatellite deployment system for the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program, designed to fly in the Space Shuttle’s cargo bay. It use was successfully tested during a flight that Shuttle Discovery made to the Space Station last December.

“In a stunning display of grace, fluidity and agility, the system deployed two satellites simultaneously,” says Waligora. “My project responsibilities ranged from proposal development and schematic/circuit design, to final testing and product delivery. It’s very exciting to have something that I helped design get launched into space aboard the Shuttle.”

Tom Waligora
AN ENGINEER’S STUDIO – Tom Waligora works on “Terabot” at his workbench. The robotic arm clips onto a variety of stationary or mobile platforms for investigating and manipulating explosives without endangering an operator. Waligora graduated from LSSU four years ago with a degree in electrical engineering. (Oceaneering Advanced Technologies.)

Waligora was also recently involved in a more down-to-Earth endeavor: the company’s “Terabot” creation, a robotic arm that clips onto a variety of stationary or mobile platforms, depending on how it is going to be used. Its dexterity is ideal for investigating and manipulating explosives without endangering an operator.

“The system has five degrees of freedom, a 25-pound lift capacity with a dust and water seal,” says Waligora. “It’s been used by law enforcement and military inspection vehicles, as well by astronauts as a training tool during NASA Mars exploration exercises in Arizona.”

However, these days Waligora’s pride and joy is his current assignment, the big rover and its milestone test this fall.

“Most of the people I am working with have advanced degrees from Purdue, MIT, and Carnegie,” Waligora says. “I feel very fortunate that I was asked to join the team on this build.”

Waligora’s new teammates formed the core group that developed Robonaut, a humanoid robot that functions as a virtual EVA astronaut. A human operator’s hands and eyes, even his sense of touch, networks through Robonaut via a telepresence control system.

Waligora had a famous visitor to the Robonaut lab not long after he joined the crew. “Steven W. Hawking came to check out Robonaut, and I helped set up his demo,” he beams.

Visiting relativistic physicists, plug-and-play robots, giant robomules . . . all the stuff of dreams. “I have the ultimate job for an engineer,” says Waligora. “On top of all this my wife and I just welcomed Ally, the world’s cutest baby, into our lives.” Call it proof-positive that dream jobs aren’t the only source of all fun and joy, at least in Tom Waligora’s case. He has a wonderful personal life as well.

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Senior Project Team Meets Success at International Competitions | Summer 2007

Mobile Robotics Workcell
Mobile Robotic Workcell

The 2005-06 Senior Project team Automated Promotional Engineering Systems (APES) recently took honors in two international design competitions. A paper and poster were prepared for the design presentations. The team developed a mobile robotic workcell capable of solving a Rubik's cube and assembling an automotive distributor as it showcases various automation technologies including the use of vision sensors. Team members included John Benjamin, Brad Bertels, Greg Johnson, Kate Kuuskman, Ben Mitchell and Leith Nader. Through the encouragement of the team's faculty advisor, Jim Devaprasad, Kuuskman and Bertels did the preparations and represented LSSU at the competitions.

Kate Kuuskman, a senior in mechanical engineering with a robotics and automation option from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., attended the UPADI Pan American Convention for Engineers, which was held September 19-22 in Atlanta, Ga. LSSU was one of five universities invited to attend. Other participating schools were Cornell University, Michigan Tech, Air Force Academy and University of Puerto Rico. The LSSU paper entitled "Mobile Robotics Workcell - Using Robotics to Lure Young Minds to Manufacturing Engineering," received an honorable mention and plaque.

Brad Bertels of Ironwood, a spring 2007 graduate in manufacturing engineering technology, participated in the Student Design Competition at the International Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference sponsored by ASME. The event was held October 9 in Ypsilanti, Mich. The LSSU entry was one of five finalists to present at the conference. LSSU received second place, which included a $750 prize. Other competitors were: University of Florida-Gainesville (first) University of Michigan (third), Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of New Hampshire.

LSSU Engineering and Technology Receives 21st Century Jobs Grant

A 21st Century Jobs Fund Grant proposal submitted by Jim Devaprasad and Morrie Walworth was recently approved. The grant will provide funding for the establishment of a prototype development center. The grant, valued at $580,000 was reviewed by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Strategic Economic Investment and Commercialization (SEIC) Board. It will be a collaboration between LSSU and the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC).

Engineering Day 2007 | Winter 2007


This year's challenge was to take a whole orange, juice it, and pour the juice from a pitcher into a cup.

Once again, the creativity, teamwork and problem solving put forth by the competition participants was amazing.

Senior team winners:
1st Place: Petoskey's "007"
2nd Place: Petoskey's "Under the Sea"
3rd Place: East Jordan's "Monster Mash"
4th Place: Mackinaw City's "7-11"

Junior team winner:
Newberry's "Lumberjack Breakfast"


Distance Category
1st Place: Miracle at 63 ft 3 in.
2nd Place: Redwings at 60 ft. 11 in.
3rd Place: Trapstar 1 at 51 ft. 3 in.

Speed Category (at a distance of 25 feet)
1st Place: Hoffman in 2.3 seconds
2nd Place: Trapstar 2 in 3.08 seconds
3rd Place: Trapstar 1 in 8.07 seconds

Overall Winner: Trapstar (combined)

For more information and downloadable registration forms, click here to visit the 2007 Engineering Day site.

Please note: The Rube Goldberg organization has introduced a $300 per team fee, of which we are able to waive $200. We held our 2007 event as an "independent" at no cost to our participants. However, we will did use the challenge and rules devised by Rube Goldberg, Inc. in order to continue the consistency of past competitions. We welcome your comments concerning the importance of being part of the national competition and the associated fees to help us determine the future nature of our machine competition. Please pass on your opinion regarding national participation to Jeanne Shibley.

Rube Goldberg is the ® and © of Rube Goldberg Inc.
The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is the (SM) of Rube Goldberg Inc.

Engineering Banquet 2007 | Spring 2007

This year's banquet held both moments of fun and solemnity. In between bouts of flying silly string, the Big Resistor was passed from Dr. Taskin Padir back to Prof. Paul Duesing. Dean Morrie Walworth passed the little screw (a whopping screw weighing at least 10 pounds) to Dr. Robert Hildebrand, while Jon Coullard received the most votes for the Big Nut & Tool. Squirtgun tactics were used during the presentation of cartoon-themed certificates to the faculty and staff by the Dean's Student Presidents Council members.

Honored outstanding seniors were:

  • Christopher Winkler, Manufacturing Engineering Technology and Engineering Student Athlete
  • Tyler Skowronek and Price McAllister, Mechanical Engineering
  • Victor Grzeda and Gregory Robertson, Computer Engineering
  • Natalie Buffone, Electrical Engineering

A number of students who provided their time and talents as volunteers, mentors and assistants this past year were presented with Service Awards.

Order of the Engineer Ring Ceremony | Spring 2007

The class of 2007 installed 13 new members on Thursday, April 19. Our thanks to ringwearers David Strickland, P.E. of the City of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan; Bob Ackert, P.Eng. formerly of Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.; and Jeremy Wilhelm of Caughill Consulting, also of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. for officiating.

If you are interested in receiving a ring, please contact Jeanne Shibley for information. Candidacy is open to those graduating from an accredited engineering program in Fall 2007, Spring 2008 or Summer 2008. We are awaiting a decision by EAC of ABET regarding our computer engineering program's accreditation visit. We hope to recieve ABET's decision by the end of August 2007.

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