Making an impact: UW–Madison senior tackles airport sustainability, highway access in Outagamie County

Through the UniverCity Year program, University of Wisconsin–Madison senior Sam Pozen had the unique chance to partner with a Wisconsin county in two engineering courses during one semester and move forward community-identified goals.  

Pozen and his Civil & Environmental Engineering 578 course partnered with the Appleton International Airport (ATW) through UCY’s partnership with Outagamie County, which is where the airport is located. In a second engineering course, Interdisciplinary Engineering 303 Applied Leadership in Engineering, Pozen worked with Outagamie County on modernizing its highway access control ordinance. 

Sam Pozen
Sam Pozen

These courses provided exciting learning experiences like getting a behind-the-scenes look at the Appleton International Airport (ATW).

“There’s not really a lot of opportunities for people to see the ins and outs of an airport, so that was a lot of fun,” Pozen said.  

They toured the terminal, checked out the mechanical and electrical rooms in the basement, and even drove around the runway as part of their research into designing a microgrid on the airport’s campus that would improve sustainability and resiliency by preventing power outages.

Pozen said these experiences were motivating because the projects aimed to solve challenges that Outagamie County is currently facing and seek to address with well-researched solutions. The projects provided an opportunity to practice workforce skills like communicating with different audiences – whether that’s talking to an engineer, airport director, or professor – and delegating tasks that Pozen can implement in his career. 

“It was cool to define the project on our own by talking to all these people, and learning how to communicate and really understand people’s values and what they want to see out of the project, because everybody’s got a different viewpoint based on their role,” Pozen said. 

The connections to the community partners played a valuable role in the success of Pozen’s final projects. In particular, the ATW site visit was “crucial” to creating a design that met the airport’s needs.

Once he and his project team members were on site, they better understood the space constraints and how not to interfere with airport operations, leading them to alter the proposed locations of the solar panels. 

“It’s hard to just read a couple pieces of paper and figure out what exactly is going on,” Pozen said. “Being able to go to a real world project and actually dive into the goals and the needs and the constraints – that’s something you can only do on a site visit and just can’t be replicated.” 

In the engineering leadership class, Pozen appreciated the ongoing communication with Outagamie County throughout the semester. 

This allowed his group to create a project that would be useful to the county. They proposed an updated ordinance and evaluated crash data to make sure the new changes would not compromise road safety.

“Knowing that (the recommendations) are actually going to be utilized and that it’s helpful for the county was really cool,” Pozen said. 

Pozen graduated in May with a degree in civil engineering focused on construction engineering and management. He will begin a job at Arco Murray as a project manager in September. 

—Abigail Becker