Carnegie Mellon University

ECE lab kit at a student's home

October 12, 2020

Academic Services Center Delivers Lab Kits

By Bruce Gerson

More than 500 electrical and computer engineering students studying remotely this fall have all the materials and tools they need for their core lab courses, thanks to a team effort that delivered on time to 12 countries on five continents.

“We never expected to become a logistics shipping powerhouse,” said Megan Oliver, manager of the Academic Services Center for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. “It was unlike anything we’ve ever had to do.”

Oliver, who became manager this past January, and lab technician Quinn Hagerty led the massive undertaking along with service center coordinators Lyz Prelich-Knight and Valeria McCrary; facilities coordinator Andrew Bolla; Kimmy Nguyen and Charissa Murray of the ECE department head’s office; administrative coordinator Chloë Mattingly; and a host of student teaching assistants and helpers.

Hagerty worked with instructors and teaching assistants over the summer to determine the materials needed for nine lab courses, including the large Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering class for nearly 150 first-year students, and Electronic Devices and Analog Circuits for more than 90 students. Both of these courses have multiple lab assignments throughout the semester, and in one case a single week’s lab required 23 different items.

“We had three weeks to purchase it all, put them together and ship them or get them ready for pickup,” Oliver said.

Hagerty said once inventories were set in August, it took him about a week and a half to order the bulk of the items he needed for the kits — from resistors and capacitors, to wire cutters and jumper wires, to breakout boards and breadboards. Some items he knew would be used he ordered in mid-July to avoid any stocking issues.

“I actually had to get my PCard limit increased twice in one week to complete orders,” said Hagerty, who last spring gathered and sent lab materials to nearly 40 student teams so they could complete their work when CMU transitioned to remote learning.

With ECE’s loading dock closed due to the pandemic, Hagerty received the purchased materials at his home garage and transported them to campus — it took him seven trips in his Chevy Traverse. He set up assembly lines for the different lab kits in various rooms in Hamerschlag Hall.

“We were wearing masks and we were spread out and using different rooms,” Oliver said. “Lab kits were being made in one room, toolboxes in another. We also had to assemble the shipping boxes themselves, and we staged them in another area.”

Oliver said while the work grew tedious at times, it was fun.

“It was the first time back on campus for many of us,” she said. “We came in every day for two straight weeks and just plugged away and got it done. It was nice to see people in person, and we were excited for the students to get the kits we put together.”

Two hundred lab kits were shipped via UPS and about 300 kits were assembled in tote bags for pickup at an outdoor tent on Frew Street near Hamerschlag Drive. Oliver managed the student lists for shipping and pickup. Students signed up for pickup times to avoid too many students being there at once.

“Getting all the boxes to first-year students in 18-100, the Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering course, was a big moment for us. We filled two UPS trucks,” she said.

Oliver said she has received positive feedback from students and professors.

“People came together and answered the call at the last minute when we realized the scope of what we had to do,” she said. “This was the ultimate test of collaboration and teamwork.”