Engineering students gather on Saturdays for Deep Dives

On a cold Saturday morning in February 2013, a dozen or so College of Engineering students assembled in a second floor lab at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. A snowstorm was forecast, but they hunkered down for a chance to brainstorm and put the university’s “Hands-On, Minds-On” approach to education to work in a single-day event known as Deep Dive.

“They are just a fun time to work on something with your hands just for the sake of learning something new,” said Chris Guida of Leesburg, Va., a master’s student in industrial and systems engineering.


Mohammed Shafae of and Devita McCullough assemble the frame of a touchscreen computer display table at a Deep Dive event. Mohammed Shafae of Alexandria, Egypt, and Devita McCullough of Colonial Heights, Va., assemble the frame of a touchscreen computer display table at a Deep Dive event. Both are doctoral students in industrial and systems engineering.

Deep Dive is an informal session for students to work as a team to crack a specific engineering problem crafted by Jaime Camelio, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering  and director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Innovation-based Manufacturing. Student participants also propose issues.

“Traditionally, we solve long-term, specific-research problems, but we do not have many opportunities to solve smaller problems,” Camelio said. “We wanted to solve simple problems quick.”

Camelio and former graduate student Marek Zareba started Deep Dive in 2009. They based the concept on a California consulting firm that took on the task of redesigning the shopping cart in a single week. When Camelio heard of the story, the idea clicked as an education effort.

The events are akin to overnight “lock-ins” that churches have with youth groups — but without the game or movie marathons. Rather, students “lock” themselves inside a lab and take on the day’s problem, not letting themselves out until the task is solved.


Wenmeng Tian and Anna Schuh assemble the support legs of the display table. Wenmeng Tian of Tianjin, China, and Anna Schuh of St. Paul Park, Minn., assemble the support legs of the display table. Both are doctoral students in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Students, of course, are free to come and go as they please, but most do remain for the day. The sessions are open to all students, not just those in engineering.

At past Deep Dives, students created a vision recognition tool that compares the number of holes in a stamped metal part with its original CAD model and developed a new way to visualize quality-control data of a product — in that day’s case, a car — in a 3-D viewing environment.

On the snowy February day, about 20 students gathered to build a touch-screen computer display table. Unlike previous Deep Dives, set instructions already were known, but nothing went as planned. A mirror arrived cracked, but a backup had been preordered. A projector for the table proved an ill fit. Plans had to be improvised and tested.

“There is always something that will go wrong,” said Greg Purdy of Beaverton, Ore., a doctoral student in industrial and systems engineering who served as team leader. When students needed to gut a floppy disk for a part, and none was readily available, a participant joked, “Let's time travel back to 1994.”

Hiccups have purpose. “The biggest gain for the students is that they discover that they have the ability to learn and implement new knowledge faster than they thought,” Camelio said.


Lee Wells, Cory Niziolek, and Arvinth Chandar Rathinam perform final user tests on the touch-screen computer display table. Lee Wells of Allegan, Mich., Cory Niziolek of Newark, Del., and Arvinth Chandar Rathinam of Chennai, India, perform final user tests on the touch-screen computer display table. Wells is a doctoral student in industrial and systems engineering. Niziolek and Rathinam are master's students in the program.

“The events allow us to come together to solve a specific, interesting problem that’s generally outside of our ‘daily grind’ of classes, research, and other lab activities,” said Anna Schuh of St. Paul Park, Minn., an industrial and systems engineering doctoral student. “The touch-surface computer is not just a new piece of equipment, it’s a new piece of equipment we all helped build together.”

Building the table took longer than expected. “This is really the core of why I attend the Deep Dives,” Purdy said. “It is not just the final product or revelation, which is amazing, it is seeing the power of collaboration at work.”

  • For more information on this topic, contact Steven Mackay at 540-231-478.

Video: Deep Dive

    Deep Dive

Deep Dive gives students a hands-on, problem-solving opportunity.

Join a Deep Dive

Deep Dives are normally held twice per semester on Saturdays. Sessions begin at 8 a.m. Locations vary according to the topic.

Events are open to all Virginia Tech students, not just engineering majors. For more information, contact Associate Professor Jaime Camelio at 540-231-8976.

Who is Jaime Camelio?

    Jaime Camelio

Jaime Camelio is an associate professor and assistant department head of the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

He also is the director for the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science’s Center for Innovation-based Manufacturing and the manufacturing systems director for the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

His research focuses on assembly systems, uncertainty management, systems diagnosis/prognosis, active monitoring, and remanufacturing.

About the Center for Innovation-based Manufacturing

The multi-disciplinary center focuses on solving current manufacturing issues and assists Virginia Tech in commercializing new technologies discovered or created at the university. Its innovation-based manufacturing goal is to boost the commercialization potential of basic research that is constrained by a lack of adequate processes and systems.

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