Shaping Tomorrow’s Innovators

Every year, college seniors in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) program at Portland State University (PSU) and the computer science program at North Dakota State University (NDSU) are required to participate in a capstone project. These initiatives pair teams of students with local or regional companies to work on industry-relevant projects and give students real-world, hands-on experience in their field. 

For the last several years, engineers in both Galois’s Portland and Minneapolis offices have been active sponsors of these projects. Galois engineers work with and mentor students on everything from graphical user interfaces (GUIs) for model-based engineering projects to working

with hardware description languages to learning and using cutting-edge digital engineering tools. 

“Really good projects tend to combine a core goal with stretch goals, and then include places where students can throw in some creativity,” said Minneapolis-based Galois research engineer Rand Whillock. “We had one team about three years ago that put together a cool schedule visualization tool. They delivered the source code and the libraries, and then we actually integrated it into CAMET.”

While project needs and, more recently, pandemic restrictions have kept most capstones confined to code and computer screens, this year’s team from PSU had the opportunity to build something a bit more tangible: a flyable blimp prototype.

“Lighter-than-air drones are a relevant, real-world industry topic,” explained Galois research engineer Ethan Lew. “Back in 2021, the Office of Naval Research issued a challenge for companies to design and build maneuverable, lighter-than-air UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), and there are now even a few startups in both the commercial and military space that are actively developing buoyant aircraft. They’re extremely energy efficient, and that makes them desirable for many applications. Of course, they also have downsides, which makes for a lot of open design questions.”

Lew and fellow Galois research engineer Michal Podhradsky guided the PSU team, setting project objectives, supplying essential resources, and then letting the students take the helm. 

Over the next few months, the students diligently crafted their project design and specification, honed their project management skills, documented their process, and constructed a functional blimp model that could be flown by remote control. Finally, they produced an Instructables Write Up, walking interested readers through their design journey. In the end, the project was a resounding success – the students fulfilled all their deliverables and learned valuable lessons along the way. 

Community Stewardship

Galois’s commitment to the capstone programs transcends immediate project gains. While the applications created and research done in capstone projects are often useful, the larger impetus for sponsoring the program is rooted in Galois’s dedication to the core principle “Serve as a Steward” – a principle that goes beyond stewarding just Galois’s own talents and resources.

“I like to think of our work with capstone projects as an area of community stewardship,” said Lew. “Even if the students’ results don’t always align with our projects, it’s still immensely rewarding. We get to introduce students to concepts and ideas they’ve probably never encountered, just like when I was a student.”

Lew himself was a participant in a Galois capstone project as an undergraduate at PSU in 2019, getting firsthand experience working with verifiable cyber-physical systems, building an inverted pendulum robot, and crafting a control policy to reason about the limits of the robot’s stability.

“As a student, it was really great to immerse myself in a six-month project where I could truly see the connections between theory and practice,” Lew said.

Impressed with his work, the Galois engineer in charge of the project recommended Lew for an internship. Within a year of graduating, Lew was hired as a full-time employee. Now, four years later, Lew is not only working as a Galois research engineer, he is spearheading a continued partnership with PSU. 

Having been impacted by the program himself, Lew is committed to improving year after year, always seeking the right balance between mentoring students and encouraging independent learning. With any luck, this ongoing example of stewardship in action will create a ripple effect—strengthening the bridge between academia and industry, equipping students with real-world experience, and helping shape the next generation of innovators.