UNLV student Tayler Zolyniak and two classmates last school year brainstormed a possible solution to a two-pronged problem at theme parks.
Theme parks often offer little shade, said Zolyniak, a 21-year-old Fernley native who’s graduating this month with a bachelor’s degree in entertainment engineering and design.
“They’re often hot, and if you’re outside for a long time, you’re looking for shade,” she said.
And when it rains, everyone scatters, but there’s nowhere to go to stay dry, Zolyniak said.
The three-member team has developed a prototype of an automated sun and rain cover.
The prototype — also the team’s senior design project for the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering — is similar to an umbrella, but has two sensors on top — one that detects ultraviolet levels and one that detects rain — and opens as a result.
Ingenuity on display
Their student project is just one of more than 30 projects that will be on display from 1:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall. The event is free and open to the public.
The Fred and Harriet Cox Senior Design Competition for engineering and computer science students happens twice a year — fall and spring semesters — and has been up-and-running for more than 20 years.
Students create real-world solutions to problems, and industry representatives judge the projects.
This fall’s projects include a rescue robot, smart pet feeder, breathing apparatus for firefighters and runoff mitigation solution for Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument.
Rama Venkat, dean of the College of Engineering, said the desire is for students to build commercially viable and socially and environmentally meaningful projects — not just something that’s required for a class.
“We also wanted them to create local startup companies,” he said, noting some teams have pursued bringing their products to market.
‘All kinds of innovative things’
The senior design competition is a “flagship event” for the College of Engineering, Venkat said, and students get excited about it. “Students build all kinds of innovative things.”
It’s an opportunity for them to apply their engineering coursework, said Melissa Morris, a mechanical engineering associate professor-in-residence and a senior design instructor.
The most exciting thing is when they connect their passion with their engineering education and create a physical, working prototype, she said.
Students are provided with a “nominal sum” to created a prototype but have the option of raising money using donors or industry partners, Venkat said, and have access to university facilities to build it.
Participating in the competition isn’t mandatory for students, although they must complete a design project as a degree requirement.
Students are strongly encouraged to participate in the competition, but it’s not part of their grade, said Morris, who’s currently working with senior design students who’ll participate in the spring competition.
The vast majority of students participate, though, and they’re excited to show off what they worked on for the past year, she said.
Prizes are awarded in a variety of categories for competition winners.
The “Rain or Shine Sanctuary” team, comprised of Zolyniak and classmates Denisse Franco and Ramy Goergi, started working on their project in January.
Their prototype is between 6 and 7 feet tall, and close to 3 feet in diameter — smaller than what they’d ideally pursue.
“Due to budget and time, we had to scale it down some,” Zolyniak said.
Zolyniak has a full-time job lined up for after she graduates. Longer term, she aspires to go into theme park design.