UW–Madison undergraduate students win regional engineering award for UniverCity Year project with Koshkonong Creek

Using plans from a capstone course that address flooding on a local farm, University of Wisconsin–Madison civil and environmental engineering students won a regional competition designed to promote real world and hands-on design experience. 

Seniors Megan Beaulieu, Emily Strand, Anna Cardinal, and Joshua Nemser-Sher competed in the regional Midwest Student Design Competition (MSDC) hosted by Central States Water Environment Association on April 10 at Monona Terrace. They were awarded first place in the environmental category and competed against two other teams.  

“It was a really cool opportunity to present at a conference setting,” Cardinal said. “It was a great opportunity and a really cool way to meet new people from different parts of engineering.” 

UW-Madison senior Megan Beaulieu presents at the the regional Midwest Student Design Competition on April 10 at Monona Terrace.
UW-Madison senior Megan Beaulieu presents at the the regional Midwest Student Design Competition on April 10 at Monona Terrace.

In October, the students will compete in Chicago at the national competition, making them the first UW–Madison team in 10 years to compete at the Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC). WEFTEC attracts over 15,000 professionals across the world and provides an opportunity for students to be exposed to the water industry.

“It’s certainly an honor to see our civil and environmental engineering students be successful in this and other competitions,” said Greg Harrington, professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It speaks well of the students and the educational program we offer.”

The competition’s focus on real world applications aligned well with the students’ project, which they developed from their capstone project in Civil & Environmental Engineering 578 taught by Harrington and civil and environmental engineering adjunct professors Mark Oleinik and Jan Kucher. 

In this course, the students were paired with Dave Muehl, a local farmer and business owner, through UniverCity Year – a program on campus that connects local governments across Wisconsin with university resources. Muehl is part of the Koshkonong Creek Collaborative, which also includes the city of Sun Prairie and towns of Deerfield and Cottage Grove. 

This collaborative is working to improve the Koshkonong Creek, an impaired waterway, and to implement a vision for sustaining the watershed for the next several decades.

Oleinik highlighted the importance of collaborating with community partners as a part of the academic learning process because it mirrors what students will see in their professional careers. 

“The majority of civil engineer graduates work directly or indirectly with community partners at some time during their professional careers,” Oleinik said. “The facilities designed and constructed are used by the communities and the public, often for decades. Direct input from community partners during the conceptualization, design and construction phases  is a critical component of the process.”  

The award-winning students developed plans to reduce the severity and duration of flooding at Badger Farms by using a weir, channel, embankment, and recreational lake system. Strand said finding the balance of what the community partner wants and what can work was a beneficial learning experience. 

“We want to make everyone happy, but we also have to make it feasible,” Strand said. “It was very interesting and eye-opening to be able to have a real client who wants something done.”   

Beaulieu said visiting Badger Farms multiple times and witnessing the flooding firsthand inspired their efforts.

“It motivates you quite a bit more to design something that’s going to actually work and to consider things that you don’t really consider when you’re writing an essay or doing a fake project that doesn’t actually exist,” Beaulieu said. “It’s been really helpful to simulate that real world experience and get a lot of input that we never would have gotten if this wasn’t connected to something real.”  

Miles Tryon-Petith, the teaching assistant for the course, said it was an “absolute joy” to watch this student team take the initiative to share their project in a venue outside of class that included industry professionals, academics, and other students from the Midwest. 

“I am very proud of the team, their work, and their passion,” Tryon-Petith said. “The team dove into the chance to work with an engaged community partner on a relevant and meaningful issue. Their success at MSDC demonstrates to me the value of that partnership and is an embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea.”

—Abigail Becker