Experiential learning encompasses any activity in which a student is actively engaged in their education inside or outside of the classroom. At Trinity, experiential learning includes undergraduate research opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, volunteer experiences, internships, study abroad opportunities, and more.

By Allyson Mackender –

In recent years, Brooks County, located just three hours south of San Antonio, has become one of the deadliest stretches of land for migrants crossing the border into the United States. According to an article in the Texas Observer, “migrants must leave the highway and hike through the rugged ranchlands” in order to circumvent the US Border Patrol checkpoint. This detour is often deadly. In the grueling south Texas heat, hundreds of migrants die each year from heat stroke and dehydration.

Recognizing this, Eddie Canales founded the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC), a community-based organization located in Falfurrias,Texas, in 2013. Since then, Canales and a group of compassionate volunteers have begun numerous projects to minimize the number of deaths in Brooks County. Specifically, the Water Station Project, which installed 90 water stations consisting of a barrel with six jugs of water and an aluminum flagpole, over 1200 square miles, has been implemented to alleviate dehydration and disorientation, which is often fatal for migrants. This year, as a part of Trinity University’s engineering design projects, the South Texas Human Rights Center asked senior engineering students for help to make the Water Station Project even better.

Seniors Kathryn Schoer '17 and James Regan '17 work with the solar panel used in The Emergency Water Supply Station. 
Education professor Angela Breidenstein read the call for senior design project ideas that the Engineering Department sends out annually and was encouraged by her colleagues in the Engineering Department to make a pitch on behalf of STHRC. She presented “The Emergency Water Supply Station” to the rising seniors in the spring of 2016 based on experiences collaborating with the STHRC, Borderland Collective, and the International School of the Americas, Trinity’s professional development school partner. Excited by the opportunity to complete a project with immediate implications, 13 students asked to participate the design project, a group almost three times larger than normal. With the help of engineering professor Mehran Aminian, the students have worked tirelessly over the last two semesters to make the project a reality.

“What appealed to me about this project was the urgency of it,” James Regan ‘17 stated, “A lot of engineering projects can help people, but when we are done they’ll probably start using the design right away.”

“The South Texas Human Rights Center wants light identification so the water barrels can be identified at night when the majority of movement happens, a way to track the amount of water in the barrel, and a durable and insulated container,” Kathryn Schoer ‘17 explained. In order to accomplish these tasks, the thirteen students working on the project split into five groups:

1. Water Station Structure and Base 

Photo of Water Station Structure and Base design, courtesy of The Emergency Water Supply Station. 
The Water Station Structure and Base group is responsible for designing a rectangular high density polyethylene base that will house the electrical equipment. It will also have a place for an aluminum flag pole and a slot for the 55-gallon cylindrical water barrel to sit. Additionally, they are adding shelving and insulation to the barrel to allow for increased storage and better temperature control.

2. Website 

The platform the students are using to design their website. Image provided by The Emergency Water Supply Station. 
This group is designing a user-friendly website for volunteers to access to get live updates on the water barrels. Using a password-protected, interactive map, volunteers will be able to see the location, power level, and water level of each barrel, making it easier for them to know when they should replenish the supply or perform maintenance on a barrel.

3. Weight Sensor 

An example of the Compression Load Cells. Photo provided by The Emergency Water Supply Station. 
This Weight Sensor group is designing a mechanism that will detect the number of jugs in each barrel and will detect the position of the barrel, in an attempt to avoid vandalism. Using four compression load cells placed an equal distance from each other, the weight of the barrel will be recorded between 0-200 lbf. The data gathered by the weight sensor will be converted into the number of jugs in the barrel and sent to the website via the arduino, an electronic platform that serves as the source of communication from the water structure to the real-time website.

4. Communications 

The Arduino is being used to communicate data to the live-feed website. Photo courtesy of The Emergency Water Supply Station. 
The Communications group is working to relay water and power level information from the structure to the real-time website. Using an Arduino Mega and Arduino GSM Cell Shield, all housed in a waterproof, sealed container in the base, data will be sent to the website and, in case of a sudden drop of weight indicating vandalism, an SMS text message will be sent to volunteers.

5. Power Supply and Identification 

A graph showing daily hours of daylight and median cloud cover in Falfurrias, Texas. Provided by The Emergency Water Supply Station.
The Power Supply and Identification group is creating an apparatus that will illuminate a green LED light strip so the water barrel will be more easily visible at night, when most migration occurs. Power will be supplied to the light, the Arduino, and the rest of the electrical components by a 30-watt solar panel and two lithium ion batteries with enough energy capacity in the case of a few cloudy days.

All of these components will eventually be combined to create a life-saving and approachable structure to be placed in Brooks County. “We want the barrel to look homemade,” Regan said, hoping that immigrants will be comfortable taking water from the barrel if it looks humanitarian.

Despite the current political climate, Schoer continuously reiterated that The Emergency Water Supply Station is not a political statement. “The point is simply to demonstrate that these are human lives,” Schoer stated, “We are not trying to encourage or discourage people from crossing the border. We’re just trying to respect the sanctity of human life.” Certainly a valiant project, its impact is even more meaningful considering these barrels are placed less than three hours from Trinity’s campus. However, its success has not come without challenges.

Most of the project requires expertise in programming and mechanical and electrical engineering. Many of the students are focusing on other disciplines such as chemical or biomedical. Over the last four years, Trinity’s unique engineering science program has taught students the fundamental skills in electrical, mechanical, chemical, and design and analysis to allow them to pursue a career in any field of engineering. While a few group members have experience in data collection and analysis from previous internships, most have had to learned new material as the project progressed.

The students will present their final project at the end of the semester. 
“It’s an academic challenge,” Schoer explained, “Sometimes we face a problem that we could have never predicted in class so we need to be innovative to solve it. We rely on each other.”

Despite this challenge, though, the students agree it has been a rewarding glimpse into what life as a professional engineer looks like. “This project has demonstrated how all the fields of engineering work together,” Schoer said, “You can’t have just a mechanical engineering project or just a chemical engineering project. You have to work with everyone.” This lesson is certainly important as the students graduate and pursue graduate school and careers this spring.

Although the students intend to pursue professional engineering careers, this project exposed them to the idea of volunteer engineering. “I’m fascinated by the idea of analyzing an existing problem, looking at the materials available, and solving it,” Regan said, “Most engineers have the newest technology and access to the best tools, but that isn’t the case in many places across the globe. I’d love to volunteer and use my engineering expertise to help people more directly, like this project is doing.”

Regardless of their plans, the senior engineering students working on The Emergency Water Supply Station project certainly have promising futures. “Engineering is about making a difference and being ingenious,” Schoer said, “This project allowed us to do just that and I think we all look forward to continuing our education and career with this spirit in mind.”

Seniors Amanda Dinh '17 and Katherine Walls '17 work on the Communications aspect of the project. 
The thirteen senior engineering students working on this project are Rebecca Bond, Joshua Bradley, Christine Campbell, Amanda Dinh, Erika Edrington, Yasmeen Farra, Brad Hood, Clay Lansdale, Sneha Pottian, James Regan, Kathryn Schoer, Katherine Walls, and Andrea Zavala.

For more information about the South Texas Human Rights Center, please visit southtexashumanrights.org.

Funding for Trinity’s senior design projects is provided by the engineering department, courtesy of generous donations from board members, alumni, and parents. To learn more about engineering sciences at Trinity, visit their webpage.
By Allyson Mackender –

In a recent interview with junior theatre major Allie Butemeyer ‘18, she recalled a particularly impactful scene in Trinity’s recent production of Good Kids:

“There was a moment when we took out all the lights so the stage was in complete darkness. All of the actors hit the home buttons on their phone to light up their faces and in this moment the main female character sees the video of her rape. All the actors are assumed to be watching it in darkness, then we put a pale blue spotlight on the main female character as the phone lights turn off and fade into darkness again. It is haunting. It takes your breath away. It is the only way to capture the sadness of that moment.”

Allie Butemeyer '18 works at the lighting control station in Trinity's Stieren Theatre.
Those of us who have been to a production have likely had this experience- a moment in the show that gives you goosebumps and sends chills up your spine. Likely, you attributed this to the performers, score, or set. But imagine that same scene happening in a well-lit room, similar to your classroom or office. It certainly would not have the same impact. That’s where Butemeyer, the Assistant Lighting Designer for Trinity’s upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, comes in.

After taking a lighting design class with theatre professor Tim Francis, Butemeyer became involved in Trinity’s productions as the Assistant Lighting Designer. In this role, she is responsible for designing, hanging, focusing and writing cues for the lighting in the show.

“Like the rest of a show, we want the lighting to look effortless,” Francis said, “which means we have to hide the immense amount of effort put into it.”

An “immense amount of effort” may be an understatement, though. Butemeyer begins the lighting design process by researching how to operate the lighting. With this knowledge in mind, she and Francis discuss the lighting and design concept for the show, including what gobos, which are patterns on the lights, and colors they want to include. As opening approaches, the more technical and labor-intensive work begins. Butemeyer and student workers hang each light individually, lowering the lights so they are out of sight of the audience.

“It’s a balancing act,” Butemeyer laughed, “You have to pick up a heavy light, pray that it won’t fall, and pray that you won’t fall.”

Once the lights are hung, they are patched into a control board so each light can be individually controlled from a console in the theatre. Next, Butemeyer and the student workers balance more than 20 feet above the stage on a narrow lift to focus each light, ensuring that they are are getting a sharp image in the right place on the stage. With hundreds of lights in the theatre, this task is tedious and time consuming.

As the manual labor comes to an end, Butemeyer and Francis begin a process referred to as cue design. “We sit down at the computer and decide when we want one light to turn on and another to turn off for the entire show,” Butemeyer explained, “That way someone can sit at the board during the show and just press go.” This particular step requires collaboration with the stage manager, director, and other members of the production to ensure the lighting coincides with what is happening on stage.

“We don’t see the lights with the actors until the tech rehearsal, so collaboration is crucial to making sure the lights fit the aesthetic of the show,” Butemeyer explained, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an especially unique show because there are basically no limitations to what we can do with the lights. The show has magic and fairies, so that pushes the bounds of creativity for what [Professor Francis] and I can do to make the show come to life.”

Butemeyer adjusts a light on the catwalk in Stieren Theatre.

In addition to the tangible skills Butemeyer gained from this experience, its contributions to her Trinity experience have been invaluable. Trinity’s theatre department focuses on creating well rounded students who are able to pursue a career in various theatre capacities. However, this particular experience has given Butemeyer the chance to explore her specific interests, preparing her for her career goals as a lighting designer.

Butemeyer came to Trinity as an engineering major, but after three semesters changed directions to pursue a theatre degree.

“I got involved with theatre freshman year,” she recalled, “But after taking [Professor Francis’] class I thought, ‘I really enjoy this. I could make a career out of this. Why am I not doing this?’”

What’s special about lighting design, though, is that it allows Butemeyer to incorporate her expertise in electrical engineering, a testament to Trinity’s liberal arts model. “Each light has a power source,” Butemeyer explained, “You still have to draw power from somewhere so I still frequently deal with circuits.”

A Midsummer Night's Dream will run until February 25, 2017.
When asked what Butemeyer was most looking forward to this production, she stated that she is excited to see how the minimalistic set and costume design combine with the lights to create the aesthetic. The show, which was directed by Stieren Guest Artist Nona Shepphard, is meant to imitate Shakespeare’s Globe in London.

“We have a black steps and black flats and all the characters are dressed in black,” Butemeyer explained, “We want the audience to interpret the magic and decide what it means to them.”

Trinity’s theatre department encourages everyone to attend a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will run until February 25. For information on curtain times and tickets, visit the Current Season page. Courtesy of Trinity’s Student Government Association, 500 Trinity students will receive free tickets to the show on a first come first serve basis. To claim your tickets, visit the box office the night of the production and show your TigerCard.
By Allyson Mackender –

Anyone with an iPhone is familiar with Apple’s Night Shift mode, the feature added last year allowing users to turn off blue light with promises of a better night’s sleep. However, not many of us are familiar with the significant effects blue light has each and every day. Trinity University sophomore, Logan Morrison ‘19, is researching just that.

Morrison's mentor, Dr. Jerry Hizon (right), is a primary care sports doctor. Source: medicalassistantca.com
While other students enjoyed their time off, Morrison, a neuroscience major, spent his winter break serving as a research assistant at Motion Sports MD, a family and sports medicine clinic near his hometown of Temecula, California. Supervised by Dr. Jerry Hizon, Morrison worked with two students from the University of California Riverside studying the effects of blue light blocking glasses on the improvement of insomniatic sleep patterns.

More than 30% of the United States’ population suffers from some level of insomnia, 10% experiencing severe and chronic insomnia. Research suggests that the exposure to blue light could explain some people’s difficulty sleeping. Light is received through retinal ganglion cells and is relayed to the brain through the retinal hypothalamic network to the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that serves as our circadian pacemaker. As this process concludes, blue light prevents the secretion of melatonin making it harder to go to sleep and stay asleep.

A diagram, provided by Morrison, demonstrating the reception of light.
“Evolutionarily we didn’t have blue light,” Morrison explained, “There wasn’t TV, or cell phones, or tablets… Also, a lot of light is switching to LED because it is brighter and higher energy but those are pretty much pure blue light.” The modern introduction of blue light clearly has serious effects on sleep patterns. Dr. Hizon, Morrison, and UC Riverside medical students are now tasked with solving this problem.

Over the next few months, Morrison and his research partners will be testing patients with insomnia using Fitbits and blue light blocking glasses, which can be bought online for as little as $8. For two weeks, the subjects will track their sleep patterns without the glasses and then for the subsequent two weeks they will track their sleep patterns wearing the glasses from 6 p.m. until they go to sleep.

Morrison, who will be working remotely from San Antonio, will collect and analyze the data from the Fitbits, hoping to discover a correlation between improved sleep and blue light blocking glasses. “The end goal is to find data that suggests wearing blue light blocking glasses as an additive treatment method for insomnia,” Morrison said, “And I’m optimistic because I really think it will work.”
The Uvex Skyper Blue Light Blocking Computer Glasses with SCT-Orange Lenses being used in Morrison's research. Source: amazon.com
When asked about the challenges faced while completing his research, Morrison was surprised by how many logistical steps must be completed to actually begin the project. After writing a research proposal and doing an extensive literature review, the UC Riverside students had to propose the topic to the Dean who then submits it to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for approval. Since this project uses human subjects, the process was even more exhaustive. However, this step was one of the many learning opportunities Morrison experienced while completing his research.

“The research I’m completing actually relates to neuroscience,” Morrison explained, “I learned a lot of the terminology and pathways in class so when Dr. Hizon would talk about the more scientific parts of the research I could understand them.” This exciting connection between Trinity’s courses and medical research helped solidify Morrison’s future plans of going to medical school and completing medical based research.

“I think Trinity has prepared me well [for medical school] so far because as a sophomore I already feel comfortable putting myself in a medical research environment,” Morrison added, “The skills I’ve developed here help me set myself apart from other pre-med students.”

For more information on Trinity University’s neuroscience department, visit their homepage.