Rethinking Education

Standing Out

by Jack Weyland, Physics Department

In a devotional address at BYU–Idaho on September 18, 2001, Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve made this remarkable statement: “I hope I live long enough to someday meet some employer who employed one of you and says, ‘Where did that come from? People just flock around that person. And they want to follow. They don’t have to be led; they’re seeking to go where that person wants to go. And they come up with new ideas. I don’t know where that comes from. They seem to find a better way, and the budget doesn’t go up. I can’t understand it.’ And I’ll smile and say, ‘Well, come with me to Rexburg.’”
     With our four-year degree in its infancy, some who heard Elder Eyring’s remarks may have thought that such glowing tributes from employers might take a decade or two to be fully realized. However as department chairmen relate the experience of their majors in internships and competitions, it is clear that this prediction for our students is coming true even before they graduate. Prime examples come from students and departments in the College of Physical Science and Engineering.
     In January 2005, two teams of students from the Department of Architecture and Construction participated in a competition at the International Builders Show in Orlando, Florida. The competition for four-year schools entailed laying out a 134-lot planned community in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Their proposal contained marketing research, management plans, and construction details about the homes themselves as well as information about building sewers, streets, water lines, etc.
     According to Bill Johnson, captain of the BYU–Idaho team, it was not until the BYU–Idaho team was well along in its work that they learned, almost by accident, about recent changes in the Mount Pleasant building permit allocation program which allowed for a growth rate of only 3 percent per year through 2010. Last year all 629 allocated permits were awarded in the first quarter. With no more permits left for the rest of the year and a large waiting list from the year before, a builder would face a huge problem. The lack of permits made it impossible to build 134 homes within a reasonable time.
     In their ten-minute presentation, the BYU–Idaho team presented a summary of their work, then, in a bold move, stated that the project was unfeasible and should not be pursued. In the fifteen-year history of the contest, no team had ever proposed scrapping a project. The announcement brought gasps from the audience.
     Later in a debriefing, the team learned several judges had placed them first but others had given them much lower scores. They ended up seventh in a field of thirty teams. The second BYU–Idaho team fared much better. In the architectural competition for two-year schools, they placed second in the nation. 
     The next day at the job fair, the BYU–Idaho team members were bombarded by eager recruiters. Almost universally, the recruiters said their companies wanted employees who would give an honest evaluation of proposed construction plans.

     One of the judges remarked,
“An average student at BYU–Idaho is as good or better than any student at any other university.” Whether or not that is true, it is certainly a glowing tribute to these students.

     As exciting as that experience was, it is only one of many in which BYU–Idaho students stand out as extraordinary among their peers. Other cases come from academic internships.
     Ben Shurtleff, majoring in mechanical engineering, recently completed an internship for the Sensors Division of the Office of Naval Intelligence. His assignment was to research flow noise characteristics of Russian submarines from aerial photographs of the submarines in docks and other information. His security clearance made it possible for him to learn about intelligence collection. For example, he was privileged to tour the intelligence room aboard the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier. “This experience has helped me be more focused as a student.  I also found out I would enjoy working with the Navy.”
     Perhaps the hottest political topic in Idaho this year involves water rights. In the middle of this issue is a BYU–Idaho student. Kirstin Keetch, a junior in mathematics, will begin working in May with Dr. Van Kirk of Idaho State University, who will be conducting a hydrology study on the lower Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and the lower Teton River.
     According to an article in the Rexburg Standard Journal (January 22, 2005), the goal of the research is to determine how water flow is shaped throughout an entire water year. The project’s overall goal is to consolidate the results of three studies into a watershed-wide document.
     Camille Erwin, a junior in physics, found her internship because of curiosity. Due to the Three Track System for admission, she was “off-track” and needed something to do with her time. Her father told her the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had an office in Idaho Falls. Camille decided to drop in and visit. She walked in and said, “What do you people do, and do you need any help doing it?” Within a few days she was working for NOAA in a project funded by Homeland Security, seeking to answer these questions: If terrorists released a harmful gas into a large suburban environment, how quickly would the gas disperse? What area would have higher concentrations? Would a gas tend to stay in one place or would it distribute evenly over the area? These questions need to be answered in order to create prediction programs for a real-life situation. Not bad for a summer job, right?
     According to her supervisor, “Camille Erwin began her internship with us early this year. She was assigned a number of different tasks, which she completed admirably. She became so proficient and reliable that she was asked to join our group in field deployment in Oklahoma City this summer. Camille proved to be a great asset to our research group. We are glad she interned with us.”
     Of all the internships one might imagine, the one that would appeal to many was experienced by Mark Millard, a senior majoring in geology. He spent last summer paddling a kayak from island to island off the coast of Southern Maine. The University of Southern Maine had received a grant from the National Science Foundation to map faults. Mark and fourteen coworkers used survey-grade GPS devices and laptop computers to make digital geologic maps. According to his supervisor, “Mark quickly established himself as the data czar.”

     Often after a BYU–Idaho student has spent a few months working for a company as an intern, employers can barely stand to let go. Such is the case with No
Min Park, a junior from Korea in BYU–Idaho’s new four-year program leading to a bachelor of science degree in technology management. These graduates are prepared for management positions in the automotive industry. No-Min Park proved extremely valuable in his internship at a local car dealership. According to Justin Lage, service manager at Stone’s Town and Country Motors, “No-Min isn’t afraid of anything. Whatever we ask him to do, he jumps right in and does it well.”

     Erica Percival is a junior chemistry student. Under the guidance of chemistry faculty member Ryan DaBell and in collaboration with Battelle, the U.S. Army and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, her internship project is to investigate the molecular structure of divinyl sulfide using a variety of modern computational methods. Divinyl sulfide is a decomposition product of mustard gas. Hopefully, an understanding of the decomposition mechanism may lead to more effective protection during a security threat or may improve efforts to clean
up existing stockpiles of the chemical in the U.S. According to Dr. DaBell, “Erica’s work not only provides her with valuable experience in a field of scholarly research but also opens the door for more BYU–Idaho chemistry student opportunities in the future.”
   Have you ever wondered what to do with that old personal computer in your closet? Daniel Purcell, a junior in the Department of Computer Science, has just the answer. As a senior project he hooked fifteen old PCs with a “boss computer” assigning jobs to the other PCs. Daniel turned the array into what once would have been called a supercomputer.
Brent Bulla and Keith Heiney, majoring in computer engineering, are about to represent BYU–Idaho in a robot soccer competition. The robot must be independent of any human controller. That is, it must locate the ball, go to where it is and kick it, or at least bump into it. And all this while outwitting the other team’s robot. On a similar note, Chris Latta, a senior in computer engineering, programmed a robot to make its way through a maze. With this on the horizon, can R2-D2 be far behind?
     With growing evidence that BYU–Idaho students are innovative and making such an impact before they graduate, it is easy to believe Elder Eyring’s prediction is about to be fulfilled in a major way. In his 2001 address he said, “Those graduates of BYU–Idaho will become—and this is a prophecy that I am prepared to make and make solemnly—those graduates will become legendary for their capacity to build the people around them and to add value wherever they serve.”
     BYU–Idaho students are well on their
way to making this happen. SM