Student Team Takes Second at Design Competition

The Terps cool off during competition in Charleston, S.C.

Image Credit: Scott Tjaden

July 1, 2014

A team of environment science students showed off their ecological engineering prowess by placing second in the annual student design competition at the 14th Annual Meeting of the American Ecological Engineering Society (AEES) in Charleston, South Carolina on Jun 9-11.

Masters students Lela Stanley, Scott Tjaden, Tim Williamson, Freddy Witarsa and undergraduate alumnus Andrew Bresee were tasked to create a coastal erosion control method in a model hydraulic flume. In order to do so, they came together to create a design that benefited both society and the coastal wildlife. 

The challenge was to provide wave energy attenuation for a shoreline by creating a system that used cylindrical mesh bags filled with media to absorb wave energy. Each teams’ designs were evaluated on multiple criteria, which were measured in each team’s flumes. The Terps decided the best course of action was to create a u-shaped system with wood chips on the bottom, sand on the top and a passageway to allow wildlife and some wave energy to pass through and interact with the shoreline. The sand held the wood chips in place, the chips allowed the water to retreat from the shoreline and the shape further reduced wave power. “We wanted to protect the shoreline while still maintaining natural conditions,” Bresee said. “We went with the woodchips and sand design because they offered the best of both media.”

The passageway came later, as the students realized they had created a sea wall, with no interaction between the wave energy and the shoreline. “We knew that many miles of the South Carolina Coastline are home to the loggerhead sea turtle so we decided to incorporate the habitat corridor,” recalled Bresee. “This would not only allow animals to pass though, but would also provide the shore with more connection to the natural wave energy.”

The students attribute their success to the Department for teaching them to attack a problem with a broad view. “ENST helped give us a holistic view of processes in nature and how alterations in energy dynamics change ecosystems and local wildlife,” Williamson asserted. “It emphasizes the use of design to benefit society and ecosystems mutually.” This holistic approach allowed the Terps to integrate all the group members’ ideas into one excellent project. “Out of all the other competitors our group absolutely was the most cooperative in sharing ideas, and definitely tried the highest number of variations in our design,” boasted Bresee. In addition, the emphasis ENST places on preparing students for the real world allowed this team to shine. “Hands on experiences allowed us to follow the appropriate path through different trials,” said Tjaden. “They allowed us, as students, to showcase how well the department had prepared us.” 

The team is proud of their second place finish and enjoyed the competition. One of the biggest boosts to their moral was the acknowledgement for their thought process by the judges. “It was a series of trial and error and redesigns, but it was nice to see that our consideration of wildlife was rewarded and encouraged,” Williamson said. The biggest takeaway for Bresee, however, was the confidence that he is prepared for the real world. “This was a fun competition and I am glad we did so well. It makes me believe that ENST has done a great job at preparing its students to navigate though a diverse world of ecological engineering.” 

The team from Auburn University won the event. Also competing were teams that included students from Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Clemson, SUNY Syracuse, and other universities.