College puts knowledge to practical use

Tyler Mooney, Michael Rowe, Donald Cardin and David Farnsworth work to convert an engine to run on CNG.



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Tyler Mooney, Michael Rowe, Donald Cardin and David Farnsworth work to convert an engine to run on CNG.

With a $750 check from Encana and a semester to complete the task, four Western Colorado Community College students set out in January to convert a donated lawn-mower engine to run on compressed natural gas.

Next week, they hope to see their goal become a reality.

The students — Donald Cardin, 26; David Farnsworth, 32; Tyler Mooney, 20; and Michael Rowe, 36 — will present their project during Mesa State College’s second annual Student Showcase from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday. The project will be among approximately 100 on display at the College Center and Moss Performing Arts Center.

The engine has not yet worked on compressed natural gas, but it’s not finished, either. The four-man team hopes some final tweaks will have the donated Honda engine running by Wednesday.

The students come from different disciplines, with Rowe from a computer networking and telecommunications background, Farnsworth focusing on welding and machining, and Mooney and Cardin majoring in process systems technology. They were grouped together by professors based on their desire to work on a CNG-conversion project for a capstone class.

“(CNG) is the way to go to get us off foreign oil, and it’s cheaper” than gasoline, Rowe said.

Rowe and his classmates purchased a compressed-natural-gas conversion kit and a CNG storage tank with the money Encana donated to them and combined their expertise to complete various tasks involved in the conversion. Each student spent about four hours a week working on the project.

When it’s finished, the engine will be used at the community college as a demonstration unit.

The team’s creation helped inspire Western Colorado Community College professors Bill McCracken and John Sluder to apply for an $800,000 National Science Foundation grant. The grant application will be submitted in October.

If it’s awarded, the grant would be used to help train teachers and foster alternative-fuels classes and projects at the community college.

Team members say they’d like to inspire more people to convert their vehicles to a hybrid that can use CNG and gasoline. Closer to home, they hope the landscaping team at the community college could use engines such as the one they created for riding mowers.

The student showcase will include more than technical projects. Presentations will range from a demonstration of a one-man hover craft and a joy-stick-operated robot to recitation of Latin American poetry and a nursing project presented in posters that will detail how a nurse’s perception of risk-taking behaviors affects medical treatment of a risk-taking patient.

Bailey Brown, a 27-year-old theater technology major with a concentration in costume design, will present costumes she designed for a fall 2010 production of “Alice in Wonderland” at the student showcase. Brown presented at last year’s showcase and said she was convinced to do it again by supportive teachers.

The showcase gives students a chance to take ownership of their hard work, she said.

“It’s probably the only time I’ll be able to show these off and be able to say, ‘I did this,’ ” Brown said Thursday in the college’s costume shop, gesturing to four of her designs.

The showcase will be followed by an awards presentation at 5:30 p.m. The afternoon’s events are free and open to the public. Visit MesaState.edu/Showcase for a list of showcase entries.



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