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Associate Professor Chris Wetteland instructs students in the TranSCEnd summer bridge program. Photo by Randall Brown with the Tickle College of Engineering

The Tickle College of Engineering’s TranSCEnd summer bridge program is in hot water again, and that’s great news. It’s exactly what instructors and students work toward when a new cohort gathers each summer just before fall semester begins.

TranSCEnd is in its third year of supporting students who transfer from one of Tennessee’s community colleges. The program’s name is short for Transfer Success Co-Design in Engineering Disciplines.

The 2020 TranSCEnd sink and commemorative wood-burned plaque.
The 2020 TranSCEnd sink and commemorative wood-burned plaque.

Each summer, the TranSCEnd team builds a functioning solar-powered water heater from the ground up, a project that encompasses as many areas of engineering as possible.

“The list seems endless,” said Jenny Retherford, senior lecturer in civil and environmental engineering. “Heat transfer, thermodynamics, a bit of power, renewable energy and solar power topics, structural engineering, process engineering, communication, the engineering design process, electrical control, sanitation and public health—just to name a few.”

The team attaches a sink to the water-heater system and celebrates with an informal hand-washing party—a part of the process more relevant than ever this semester. Social distancing was observed throughout the build.

“We wore masks, obviously, but we also broke the group into smaller cohorts and made a bigger effort than in the past to divide the tasks more clearly,” Retherford said. “For example, in the past, we might all work simultaneously on plumbing. This year, we had a group working on carpentry, another group on plumbing, and another on the solar panel supports. We used nearly an entire bottle of hand sanitizer in the two-and-a-half days!”

Alicia Zahnen celebrates the finale of the successful TranSCEnd water heater project.
Alicia Zahnen celebrates the finale of the successful TranSCEnd water heater project.

“Transfer students, historically, have a lower graduation rate than the traditional students on the campus,” said Chris Wetteland, associate professor of practice in materials science and engineering. “So the focus of this grant is to try to increase the overall graduation rate of transfer students.”

It also helps transfer students get to know others who are experiencing campus life in a similar manner.

“We call it the summer bridge project because we want to form a cohort,” Wetteland said. “We want them to know other people on campus that they can identify with.”

Alicia Zahnen, a student who transferred from Pellissippi State Community College, says she has definitely felt the benefits of participation.

“It has taken me out of my comfort zone, introducing me to other aspects of engineering and different ways of thinking,” Zahnen said. “I’m excited now that I feel like I know enough people—just having people you can talk to and suffer through finals together with. Really, the biggest thing I’ve taken away from this is just allowing myself to relax and dive into things.”

TranSCEnd students work on a portion of their cohort’s project.
TranSCEnd students work on a portion of their cohort’s project.

TranSCEnd is funded through a grant from the S-STEM program awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“It’s just amazing that you can have an NSF grant here on campus, and be able to pull in folks from Facilities Services to go ahead and be part of such a great project,” Wetteland said. “There’s so much engineering involved in what we’re doing.”

Students also got to work within the Innovation and Collaboration Studio (ICS) in Perkins Hall, aided by academic support specialist Michael Allen and Rob Frick from Facilities Services.

The 2020 TranSCEnd cohort gathers at a distance to try out their solar-powered water heater.
The 2020 TranSCEnd cohort gathers at a distance to try out their solar-powered water heater.

“We had an opportunity to reflect this year and took about an hour to let the students pause and share their thoughts on the experience,” Retherford said. “The most common ‘thumbs up’ was the experience to work with Michael in the woodshop. This was closely followed by the opportunity to sweat pipe with Rob—many said they had never done that work before and now felt confident to do that work themselves.”

Retherford said the entire cohort expressed appreciation for getting familiar with the ICS space and the engineering campus itself, helping ease the first-day jitters.

“They are less intimidated to start the semester,” she said. “They’ve already accomplished a significant achievement—a great confidence boost to get the semester off on the right foot.”

Story by Randall Brown, writer with the Tickle College of Engineering. All photos within the story by Jenny Retherford.