An Industry Perspective on Senior Design

Date Published: 
Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tom Chervenak was director of new product development for Irwin Tools when he served as the industrial Technical Representative on a senior deisgn project. His experience was so positive that he stayed involved for five years. Following his retirement in 2012, he began volunteering with the program and is now in his third year as a team mentor.

“For 20 years I was involved in new product development; the work these teams are doing is similar to that type of work,” he explained. “They get a good flavor for what it’s really like working for a company. Some of the most important things they learn are how to work as a team and the most effective ways to approach a problem.”

The products that teams worked on for him while he was at Irwin Tools included quick-grip clamps, a locking adjustable crescent wrench, and linesmen pliers.

“Some of the projects were to improve the mechanical advantage of the tools provided,” Chervenak said. “The teams came up with some good ideas that were integrated into future design.”

Asked why he is still involved even though he has retired, he said, “During 45 years as an engineer, I learned what you should and shouldn’t do. Things like ‘never go the boss with a problem unless you have some sort of solution to present.’ I feel like it’s my responsibility to pass on some of this knowledge to these young engineers. I give them a list of such items that I call “Tom’s Book of Wisdom.

Lee Easter became involved in the program three years ago while he was an advisory electrical engineer at AREVA. “The initial draw for me was I had 40 years of experience in the nuclear engineering industry, and I thought I could contribute something,” he said.  “Now, I’ve been retired for a year, and I still love doing it. It keeps me sharp.”

A project for AREVA that stands out for him focused on a problem the nuclear industry has been dealing with for years. The problem is detecting when a three-phase power system loses one of its phases. “It’s something that is not obvious when you drop a phase, but it is serious. The students learned a software product called ETAP (ElectroMagnetic Transient Program) and ran close to 100 scenarios,” he recalled.  “They developed graphics that showed the problems and trends.

“The point of the projects is for them to learn a lot,” Easter continued.  “This is for the students, and industry gets the benefits of what they’ve learned.  What has kept me involved is I enjoy it.  I still have something to give and I really enjoy working with the students.”