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CSU engineering student's cutaway engine project used as educational tool

August 20, 2012
by Courtney West

Mechanical engineering can be a complicated topic, especially when the audiences are middle school students.

CSU Boettcher Scholar Darryl Beemer took a broken down lawnmower engine, pulled it apart and turned it into an educational tool both to interest kids in mechanical engineering and promote and improve awareness of the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory (EECL). The engine was a joint project between the EECL and the President’s Leadership Program, of which Beemer is a part.

CSU journalism senior Courtney West talked with Beemer about his background and what drives him.

What is your year and major at CSU?

Junior, Mechanical Engineering major.

Where did you move to Fort Collins from?

Loveland. I graduated from Mountain View High School.

What made you choose CSU? Was it a top pick, or did you have other plans initially?

I chose CSU due to the opportunity to combine a top-notch mechanical engineering degree with research and projects as an undergraduate student. The diversity due to the broad variety of excellent colleges and the opportunity to work with these other areas was a big draw to broaden my education from just engineering. I first looked at lots of universities and colleges—DU, CU, Purdue, the United States Air Force Academy, the United States Military Academy, Wyoming and Texas Tech—but receiving the Boettcher Foundation Scholarship brought my focus to colleges here in the state. My decision ultimately came down to CSU and Mines. I felt more at home with the people, atmosphere and rich heritage of CSU and Fort Collins. It sounds cliché, but the academics were equal so that is how I decided.

What are your career aspirations after graduation? How has your work at CSU influenced this?

I am planning on going to graduate school for mechanical engineering here at CSU. After that, practically every engineer dreams of working on spacecraft, designing roller coasters, or working to actually build and implement science fiction designs, so it would be awesome to do anything along those lines. Having the last name Beemer, it would be great—and fitting—to be an engineer at BMW.

Also, the energy industry—renewable and non-renewable—is a vital part of life in general. It provides economic development for all sectors and helps drive new technologies. My current position at the EECL has provided me the opportunity to work on innovative projects in this area, as well as to glean information in general on everything from biomass conversion, biofuels, energy infrastructure development, and various engine technologies. There are lots of new ideas beyond just solar panels and wind turbines that would be fun to explore.

What are some extracurricular activities you enjoy when you’re not tinkering with engines in the lab? What got you started?

I have been a Ram Handler for CAM the Ram—the actual, live, four-legged animal mascot—since my freshman year and can lay claim to bringing a football game to a grinding halt while I swept poop into a scooper and off of the field. Ram handling is basically my sport, as it provides me an opportunity to get away from my engineering studies and lets me do something completely different—and completely awesome.

Along with my family, I own, show, and sell Rambouillet sheep (the same breed as CAM) back home. I was an 11-year 4-H member here in Larimer County, which got me involved with the agricultural industry and got me interested in being a Ram Handler. I am the current treasurer for the Pi Tau Sigma Mechanical Engineering Honors Society and also for FarmHouse Fraternity, FarmHouse is an agriculture and academic-based fraternity, and provides an opportunity to study and work with outstanding individuals from a variety of majors with a similar goal. I am in the Honors Department, and in the pilot class of the President’s Leadership Program Scholars’ program, which is separate from the President’s Leadership Program class. PLP Scholars is an enhanced look at leadership here at the university and within the Fort Collins and Colorado community. I get to work alongside fellow PLP Scholars to discuss leadership insights from the campus leaders and apply these insights into local service projects, in a project abroad during the junior year, and also in work within my area of study.

Aside from engineering, you are very involved in university outreach programs. What got you started with these type of events? Why do you enjoy them?

My work at the EECL as well as Ram handling both involve outreach. For me, outreach is a way to provide education and inspiration while also sharing the work that is done to build connections with those interested in the work. I have seen through the President’s Leadership Program (as well as other channels) that many of the social issues that lots of people work to solve stem from education. While outreach does not teach students all they need to know, it does help provide the inspiration and encouragement to pursue education (secondary education in particular). I had the great opportunity to be on the receiving end of charity and outreach, so it is a good opportunity to try to share some of my knowledge and project work with others.

Can you give me a basic overview of your cutaway engine project? How and where are you presenting it? What gave you the inspiration?

The cutaway engine project was a joint project between the EECL and the President’s Leadership Program. In the spring semester of the program’s second year class, Leadership as Life, all students do an unpaid leadership internship with local organizations. I conducted my internship at the EECL, and focused on producing outreach devices that would not only provide education, but also share the great research we do at the lab while also improving communication within the different areas of the lab. The engine was off of a lawnmower that broke down back home that I brought up to take to the metal recycling center. I wanted to use the engine as a demonstration tool for lab tours as well as to share the research from the lab at university expos and industry symposiums. Instead of just trying to talk with people about the work that we do, I can highlight the research from the different parts of the engine that they are playing with. Basically, I set up the engine to appeal to everyone from middle schoolers to PhD’s.

The engine tagged along with the Little Shop of Physics (LSOP) at Webber Middle School towards the end of spring semester, where it was a great supplement. The engine will be going to more LSOP school visits, as well as CSU sponsored educational nights. I have prepared educational materials for simple machines, the 4-stroke cycle, and the thermodynamic “Otto Cycle” so that educators can borrow the engine for a day and have a stand-alone educational tool for anything engine or energy-related. The small engine is a launching pad for education about energy transfer, physics, engineering and manufacturing methods, technology, renewable and non-renewable energy, and much more. My hope is that the engine can be used as a stand-alone tool for local educators and for the lab. However, I also enjoy sharing the engine myself and am looking to take it into more schools and organizations.

Contact: Emily Wilmsen
Phone: (970) 491-2336