Campus: Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo -- November 29, 2000

Cal Poly Society of Women Engineers Takes First in National Competition

Cal Poly's Society of Women Engineers won first place in a national "Team Tech" competition for a proposal that could save the lives of the women and men who fight wildfires.

The problem: Unpredictable winds and other factors can turn a brush fire on the firefighters themselves, an event known as a burnover. When this happens, the options have been to pitch a government-issued personal fire shelter or, if time permits, retreat to the truck. Both options have problems: The personal shelter cannot keep someone alive for long, and fire trucks contain objects that give off toxic smoke when the fire contacts them directly.

Team leader Jo Anne Alano, an architectural engineering senior from San Diego, and eight team members developed an innovative design for a quickly deployable shield that protects the vehicle from rapidly escalating temperatures and allows firefighters to enter after deployment. Known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supplemental Heat Inhibitive Emergency Life Device), the spring-loaded design deploys within 10 seconds and can provide a survivable environment inside the vehicle for 10 to 15 minutes.

Alano said, "Leading Team Tech is one of the most rewarding experiences that I have encountered throughout my academic career. I know that this experience is a stepping stone to the world outside of Cal Poly."

Team member Mary Phillips, a mechanical engineering senior from San Mateo said, "For me, the most challenging part was being able to use the information I've learned in various engineering classes to solve a real-world concern."

Team members included electrical engineering junior Mabel Chan from San Jose, general engineering sophomore Joanna Ignacio from Newark, electrical engineering sophomore Kate Lee from Laguna Hills, and industrial engineering senior Monique Matta from Visalia.

Additional team members were civil engineering junior Melanie Morris from Oakley, mechanical engineering senior Jessica Phillips from Saratoga, mechanical engineering senior Kevin Pirotin from Aptos, mechanical engineering senior Gena Simpson-Clifton from San Luis Obispo, materials engineering senior Maria Santa Ana from Santa Clara, and industrial engineering senior Lauren Shimizu from Carmichael.

Faculty advisors included Safwat Moustafa, chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department, Robert Heidersbach, chair of the Materials Engineering Department, and Unny Menon from the Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department.

Qualifications for Team Tech specify that teams must consist of 4 to 12 students, with a majority being active SWE members. A minimum of three different engineering disciplines must be represented. Evaluation factors include the ability of the team to work together, the use of the engineering process, the product, the quality of the result, and the ability of the team to work with industry.

The competition, sponsored by the Boeing Co, was established in 1992 to emphasize the key role of teamwork and to allow students to work with industry in the engineering education process.

The Cal Poly team worked with Environmental Convergence Inc. of Rancho Palos Verdes, a small business seeking engineering solutions to address forest fire fighting issues.

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