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UMaine Today Magazine

Student Focus

Sensors on the high seas

Student Engineer with Circuit
Student engineers contribute to the Modular Advanced Composite Hull-forms project involving composites design, computer modeling and sensor development.

Julie Dube
Julie Dube

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Computer chips and sensors are turning up in unexpected places saw mills, dairy barns and now, as the result of a University of Maine engineering research project, in the hull of a prototype U.S. Navy ship.

Four undergraduates in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering are working on a computerized system that will be embedded in a new generation of ship hulls made of composite materials. The system will keep track of stresses encountered by the hull panels, and alert the crew to problems and the need for maintenance.

Under the guidance of Associate Professor Bruce Segee, the students are programming a computer chip to communicate with standard temperature sensors. They are conducting their study using Internet-related software to gather sensor information and display the data on a Web page.

The work is part of a larger UMaine project known as Modular Advanced Composite Hull-forms, or MACH, led by Vince Caccese, associate professor of mechanical engineering. The U.S. Office of Naval Research provided a $2.24 million grant in 2001 to develop the composite panels.

Binaya Acharya of Nepal, a junior on the team, says the project gives him and his peers a taste of real engineering practice. "In the classroom, we cover theory and use textbooks," he says. "There is no textbook for this. It gives us an opportunity to tackle a real-life project. We have to write the programs to make the sensors and computer boards communicate with each other."

With built-in wires, sensors and computer chips, the panels are like an electric blanket, says Segee. "We have to make the electronics small and efficient. Our challenge is to develop microcomputer technology to drive the sensors and communicate with the outside world with a minimum number of interconnections."

The goal is to get useful information to the ship's crew. "I can imagine that the bridge might have the equivalent of a gas gauge that starts out in the green, goes into the yellow and eventually into the red to indicate that hull maintenance is due," says Segee.

The principal's office

Julie Dube has taken only one semester off from The University of Maine since beginning her undergraduate studies in 1988. Learning to successfully balance multiple responsibilities and schedules proved to be good training for the educational leader.

Now in her second year as principal of Medway Middle School, Dube is among a dwindling number of young educators willing to take on the daily challenges and stress of running a school. Tremendous management responsibilities, fragmented roles, conflicting expectations and high public accountability contribute to an increasing turnover of K-12 principals and superintendents nationwide and in Maine.

In response, UMaine is assisting aspiring and current K-12 administrators like Dube with professional development options, including the state's only doctorate program in educational leadership. After earning a bachelor's degree in education and a master's in literacy, Dube is now pursuing an Ed.D.

"Administration is a rewarding job, but it's like the general practice of education. The assumption is often that we are or should be specialists in everything. The public and policymakers need to respect the position and understand that it takes time to constantly learn new things. And it takes support," she says.

Dube spent her first seven years at Old Town High School, where she taught English and served in her first administrative post as dean of student activities. Then came the opportunity to take over the leadership of Medway Middle School, near her hometown of Lincoln, Maine.

Dube says she enjoys the chance to be innovative and create opportunity, to deal with different types of people and to figure out how to best work toward common goals. Her goal as a principal is to give every student the best possible opportunity to learn and to make learning meaningful. Being organized, well-read and receptive to other people's ideas are key. Shared leadership, she says, is essential.

Dube says she may one day consider a superintendent position, as well as consulting and writing a book on women and school leadership.


UMaine Today Magazine
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