Hands-on preservation

Electronic and computer engineering technology and built environment students recreate the Wabash River Generating Station as part of a Duke Energy exhibit at the upcoming Vigo County History Center.

Terre Haute’s Wabash River Generating Station may have ceased operation in 2016, but Indiana State technology students will bring its sights and sounds back online when their Duke Energy exhibit makes a home in the future Vigo County History Center.

With direction from Edie Wittenmyer, a senior instructor in the department of electronic and computer engineering technology, around 20 undergraduate- and graduate-level students in the College of Technology have helped bring the 4-foot tall, 8-foot wide exhibit to life.

Indiana State graduate student Kenneth Cleghorn poses with the red phone.

Graduate students Kenneth Cleghorn and Domenic Nepote worked on the automated red phone, which required integrating a small computer into a phone that could control a motion sensor. When the sensor picks up foot traffic, the phone will ring. After the receiver is picked up, there will be a recording of a Duke Energy employee giving emergency instructions to shut down the plant.

“This project gave me an opportunity to take skills that are taught in the classroom and apply them in a real-world situation with a real client,” said Cleghorn of Terre Haute. “Most of the time classes give examples of ‘real world’ situations and practice problems to grade you on, but this allowed us to experience the pressures and rewards of project management firsthand.”

History center visitors will be the real winners, though, when they test the display’s interactive features.

“We basically made a mechanical design of a box with a shaft that goes into the box and an antique wheel from the energy station is fixed to it,” said Parker Kirby, a mechanical engineering technology graduate student. “When someone turns the wheel, it produces a sound like it’s activating a turbine.”

Kirby of Clinton, Ill., handled the mechanical design of the metal pieces and wheel, while his teammates Ali Albagshi, Nicholas Delfino, Matthew MacLaren, Anthony Milata and Natalia Ryadovaya devised the code to turn the computer on and off and play sounds.

“We started off researching how the wheel would have actually worked, then we used a box to contain the speakers, electronics and computer that runs it,” Kirby said. “I designed a mechanical shaft with enough counterweight on it so (the wheel) wouldn’t spin freely on it but was easy enough for a child to spin. Once there has been no rotation for three seconds, a shutdown sound starts.”

Mechanical engineering technology graduate student Parker Kirby helped design the interactive wheel display.

The exhibit incorporates nine original meters from the power plant’s furnace that were made interactive by James Conners, an electronics and computer technology graduate student from Gary, Ind., and his group members Corey Howard, Dominique Suggs, Mohammed Sultan and Danping Wang.

“It wasn’t easy because the meters they gave us to start were air pressure gauges, so we were trying to come up with a way to use a pneumatic system to power them,” Conners said. “People at the museum thought that kind of system would be too loud, so we spent a month trying to make it work quietly before Duke Energy delivered parts to the museum, including gauges that worked off of electricity and were quieter.”

For Conners, who designed the circuitry and programming for the circuit his group created, the hardest part was programming the microcontroller used to regulate the current and manage the needle’s movement in the gauge.

“This project really showed me the value of research, because we spent a lot of time researching different methods of making the gauges work quietly before we got the electric gauges,” he said.

The display is a team effort by Wittenmyer’s students and the department of built environment’s Construction Club. Directed by Andrew Payne, chair of the department of built environment, Construction Club members made the kiosk from an outline provided by Duke Energy officials and Susan Tingley, development director for the Vigo County Historical Society and Museum.

Once fundraising for the building renovations is complete, the exhibit will be installed in the history center in downtown Terre Haute.

The history center display is on point with Wittenmyer’s vision for the project management course.

“I had been a project manager in the corporate world, and I thought the students could gain more experience by doing projects so I created ‘project in a box.’ It initially started by placing junk in a box that students had to use to create a product, along with incorporating all of the project management tools — Gantt chart, timeline, risk analysis,” she said. “Now I have industry and community leaders contacting me wanting my students help with projects that their companies may not have time to get to, so the projects in my class have turned into real-life workplace projects.”

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