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New UW Engineering Building Features State-Of-The-Art Technology And Teaching

Bob Beck
The new engineering building provides students with a state-of-the-art facility.

The University of Wyoming has opened its new Engineering Education and Research facility. The $105 million project is being touted as one of the most advanced learning facilities in the nation and will not only benefit students, but the state and community as well.

One such room is the Drilling and Completions Simulator, which is a state-of-the- art, hands-on lab where students can learn just about everything they need to know about on-shore and offshore drilling. The room is overseen by Tawfik Elshehabi of the UW Department of Petroleum Engineering, who shows off a virtual reality drill site.

Credit Bob Beck

"We have a virtual reality, a drilling rig virtual reality tour. Many of our students maybe have never been to a drilling rig, or to the oil fields, [and] we take them on a virtual tour," said Elshehabi.

Everything you see in the virtual reality room makes you believe you are in an oil field and high up on a rig. Way down below there's equipment, trucks, and it's all scaled to actual size. When you turn or look up and down, it's like you are actually at the rig site.

Across the room, Elshehabi has another state-of-the-art simulator - one of only two in the world-that gives students a hands-on lesson in drilling operations. Elshehabi said the simulator has completely changed how he teaches. He added that they can actually do everything someone can in the field in a laboratory setting.

"Split them into teams and every team would be trying to drill it fast and efficient. Then as an instructor, I will be evaluating their results and am giving them immediate feedback. Same thing with the wild line and all the other simulators," said Elshehabi, who noted that the old way to teach this material was through pictures and lecturing.

They also have an offshore rig that teaches students how to operate drilling operations at sea, another state-of-the-art simulator. Elshehabi said UW has always had a good petroleum engineering program, but now it's beyond that.

"This simulator here will put the university at the top when it comes to the oil and gas industry because this is the only simulator like this at any other school," said Elshehabi.

He pointed out that when you consider how affordable UW is, this could really grow the program.

Engineering Dean Michael Pishko said that was certainly the goal when upgrading the engineering building was first considered about a decade ago. He said lawmakers and former Governor Dave Freudenthal wanted to take the program to the next level and help improve the ability to perform important research, education, and workforce training. And it's just not about oil and gas. Pishko said the new facility allows for active learning or hands-on approaches to teaching and learning, and it has other features.

"We have a very large student innovation center, which is a maker space. This is a place where students can design or fabricate what they're thinking off. That could be anything from parts for a Formula One car, which we are working [on], to projects for high school and middle school students," said Pishko.

Makerspace Coordinator Tyler Kerr said his facility is like an ultra-cool shop class.

"[It's] a tinkering and discovery area where we teach people how to use a lot of emerging technology that they may not have access to at home," said Kerr.

The highlight is 3-D scanners and printers that allow people to print out actual objects. For instance you could scan a scull from a faraway place and print the actual skull out to be used in a classroom. They will be offering how-to classes for students and the community.

Another program is includes the Departments of Visual Arts on campus and computer science combined to develop a Center for Design Thinking. The goal, according to co-director Brandon Gellis, is to teach people how to bring engineering and design-thinking concepts together.

"An app is a perfect example on a phone of something you need a computer scientist and a programmer to develop, but you need something that looks interesting and evocative and is intuitive," said Gellis.

The program is hoping to use students to develop entrepreneurial projects that can do a number of things, which includes solving some engineering issues in the state. Dean Pishko said these programs and others will certainly change the outlook for UW's Engineering and Computer Science program.

"I think it puts us on par with the kinds of facilities you would find at Stanford or MIT."

Pishko said the reaction to the new facility has been fairly uniform. "It's been wow." He said potential students have been incredibly impressed, and he expects that to pay dividends in the not too distant future.

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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