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Collaboration: It's a Teamwork Thing

Coby and ElSafty headshot

One of the many benefits students at UNF enjoy is the opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty members to experience a stimulating level of scholarship, research and intellectual engagement. Both undergraduate and graduate students work side-by-side with outstanding scholars to conduct original research, participate in projects featuring cutting-edge technology and gain firsthand experience in their fields.


Together they explore current topics in areas ranging from chemistry and physics to international business and educational leadership. This kind of collaboration not only enhances students' experiences at UNF, but also professors' experiences, often leading to publication in academic journals or presentations at national conferences and having a transformative effect on everyone involved.


Student-faculty collaboration regularly takes place in all five colleges on campus, but in this issue we look at several student-faculty duos and in one case a trio from UNFs College of Computing, Engineering and Construction. Each of the following examples illustrates how the college's faculty and students work together, interact and mutually learn in a variety of intellectual endeavors.

Coby & ElSafty Collaboration

As a civil engineering student in Dr. Adel ElSafty's Intro to Bridge Design class, Russell Coby worked with classmates to design a 16-foot-long concrete beam the group entered in a national "Big Beam" competition. Coby also communicated the design to Gate Concrete and coordinated the fabrication and delivery of the 4,000-pound beam to UNF's concrete testing lab in the Science and Engineering Building. Because he'd already collaborated with ElSafty on a research project designing, fabricating and testing concrete strengthened with carbon fiber reinforced plastic, Coby knew his way around the lab. In fact, he single-handedly brought the lab's testing equipment to a functioning state after it had remained un-calibrated and unused. Coby graduated in July 2008 with a B.S. in civil engineering, but he continues to volunteer in the lab and hopes to enter the master's program soon.

Russell Coby:

Dr. ElSafty and I worked closely on all aspects of the carbon fiber reinforced plastic project when I was enrolled in his Design of Reinforced Concrete class - and we published our findings at the Pre-stressed Concrete Institute Conference. The learning experience I acquired from that project and the Big Beam Competition is second-to-none. I could not have developed a relationship like I have with Dr. ElSafty at any other university. The one-on-one time is invaluable. Dr. ElSafty and I are now colleagues and friends. Now I work for JEA, designing pre-stressed concrete transmission structures, so I'm absolutely using what I learned at UNF on the job.

Dr. Adel ElSafty:

The research Russell and I collaborated on when he was an undergraduate was beyond the scope of our undergraduate curriculum. Russell is great. Now he's training other students in the lab. He's so dedicated that he just volunteers to come and train them how to use the equipment. He just has this undying passion about engineering that you don't often see.

Scott & Sanchez-Ruiz Collaboration

Scott and Sanchez-Ruiz headshot

When grading 100 multi-page essay papers, it's challenging to maintain the same energy, focus and clarity on the 100th essay that the grader/evaluator had on the first. After talking about this challenge with English professor Dr. Bart Welling, Dr. Arturo Sanchez-Ruiz in the School of Computing thought developing software to assist evaluators systematically grade essays (based on Welling's proposed methodology) would be a great project for grad students in his two-semester Engineering of Software class. One of those students was David Scott, who ended up taking over the endeavor as his master's project. The result was the Evaluation Assistant (EvA), a software system to help evaluators maintain knowledge-based comments via incrementally developed taxonomies and insert them automatically into an electronic document for the student's review. EvA allows the evaluator to assess essays better, faster and in a more systematic manner.

David Scott:

My role in the project was to design the system according to what Dr. Welling wanted and decide on the best format to use. I learned a lot about programming and the demands of the software development world, and the experience allowed me to earn my master's degree. The collaboration with Dr. Sanchez was fantastic - it was a great overall experience.

Dr. Arturo Sanchez-Ruiz:

What I like about this product is that we took it from zero. It was a product born from ideas. David took the project from a very bare-bones prototype at the end of the course and continued to work on it for a year and a half until it was complete. We've published our research, which is really gaining some attention. Now we're planning to expand the software to become Osprey Nest, an integrated set of assistants that allows the user to conduct evaluations without context-switching from course management systems like Blackboard to word processing systems like Word and vice versa. What a great way to enhance learning through technology.

Rivera & Vasana Collaboration

Rivera and Vasana headshot

Introducing new biomedical technology can sometimes result in confusion among doctors who are used to reading patients' vital signs in a particular way. Frustrated by the visually confusing display on a new machine introduced at Mayo Clinic, liver transplant doctor Timothy Shine, M.D., sought the help of UNF electrical engineering professor Dr. Susan Vasana to simplify the data on display. Shine provided patient data to Vasana, and students in her classes began working on a solution. They ultimately designed digital-filter models of the heart and its signals that could be displayed in pole-zero plots to show meaningful data easy to read during surgery. Doctors also can use the plots to explore correlations in cardiovascular diseases, perhaps leading to new medical discoveries. Then-undergrad Harold Rivera played an important role in the project. Now a grad student, Rivera recently presented a paper with Vasana at an international biomedical engineering conference.

Harold Rivera:

The problem-solving skills I learned in this project will be invaluable in a professional setting. Some of the technicalities of the project are very much in line with the methodology used in industry for problem solving. The project could not have been completed without the involvement of Dr. Vasana, who is a great mentor. I learned a lot from her.

Dr. Susan Vasana:

Harold is one of 10 students who worked on this project and one of two grad students who continue to do research at UNF. He made significant contributions and was able to test some of our ideas in his undergraduate research. This project provided exercises for students to apply engineering methods to the biomedical and health-care field in a real-world example. The research included collaborations not only between faculty and students, but also with Dr. Shine as well as doctors in Europe and scholars in China for the next step of research.

Toth, Welsh & Lambert Collaboration

Toth and Welsh and Lambert headshot

Electrical engineering undergrad Mike Toth emerged as a natural leader during a group project in UNF's Digital Computer Architecture course in the fall of 2007, so Drs. David Lambert and Patrick Welsh knew they wanted him to help with ongoing research in the UNF Advanced Weather Information Systems Lab. The duo recruited Toth to design a wireless water-quality measurement device that was ultimately used on UNF's first offshore monitoring buoy and rainfall monitoring network. The experience was so fulfilling that Toth decided to stay at UNF for grad school and is now an integral part of a related watershed management research project to set up a real-time sensor network on campus to monitor rainfall and determine its impact on the environment.

Mike Toth:

The types of projects I've been working on are based on hot topics, including green energy and environmental monitoring. Through this collaboration with Drs. Welsh and Lambert, I continue to learn many lessons. While books contain lots of great information, working in a real-world setting is invaluable for gaining knowledge and experience. Hopefully, the knowledge I'm gaining will allow me to get a good job in the field or to start my own company dealing with environmental monitoring.

Dr. Patrick Welsh:

Mike's big undergraduate accomplishment was a communications package for the offshore buoy that he helped put together. Regardless of what we've tasked Mike with creating, we're able to sit back and wait for him to either ask questions or bring us a finished product.

Dr. David Lambert:

Mike is a very important member of our research team. He's proven himself through past performance and now we completely rely on him to do his part on each research project. Mike is the electrical engineer on our team. Pat and I couldn't do the research we're doing without his contributions. It's been a win-win situation for all of us.