A unique lab experience for systems engineering students

Professor works with student in hands-on lab
ISU ABE Professor Matt Darr (standing), works with undergraduate senior Lucas Brouillete during a hands-on lab activity. Photos by Kate Tindall.

“I wish I had learned that in school.”

Recent graduates ask themselves this many times in the first years of their professional career. But at Iowa State University’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ISU ABE), faculty members like Matt Darr and Bob McNaull are determined to bring the industry experience to the students. Hands-on learning facilities, like the Ag Leader Technology Precision Agriculture Lab, are the tools needed to prep their students.

“The Ag Leader Technology Precision Agriculture Lab is helping students develop skills that are highly desired in their field of work,” Darr, a professor at ISU ABE, said. “Iowa State works closely with industry companies, and our teaching adapts constantly to industries needs for highly skilled engineers. That’s putting Iowa State ahead of other universities in how well we’re preparing our students, and it makes our student’s portfolio of experience very competitive.”

Precision agriculture and systems engineering focuses on how to design and manage complex ag systems like combines, tractors or other farm implements.

“If you get into an ag vehicle today, it’s one of the most complex, advanced vehicle systems on the market,” Darr said.

Upper-level system engineering students use the Precision Agriculture lab on a daily basis for classwork. Each class meeting is specifically designed to force students to think critically. That may include getting outside their comfort zone. This is especially the case at any semester’s close, when students are given a group project and have to work with fellow lab groups to solve systems problems that include mechanical, software and hydraulic components.

Student working with joystick
Ashley Kruse directs the commands of a machine simulation.

“Experience isn’t seeing a demonstration, experience is doing,” Darr said. “Experience is troubleshooting. Experience is building relationships and communicating with team members.”

Ashley Kruse and Lucas Brouillete are both seniors in the agricultural engineering program and shared their thoughts on how this lab has impacted their learning skills.

“I enjoy working in this lab and with Dr. Darr and McNaull, because I know they have a lot of industry experience in this field and everything we’re doing is relevant in industry today,” Kruse said. “Also, what we do in the lab is what we are going to see at work. It’s all very applicable and useful.”

“I’m 10 times more ready to be dropped into industry now than I was before I started this class,” Brouillete said. “I have the opportunity to work part-time at John Deere, and I am able to put to use the lessons that I learn in this class. It’s all relevant.”

Generous contributions from Ag Leader Technology, Deere & Company, AGCO Corporation, Vector Informatik, and Pi Innovo make this hands-on learning experience possible.

Make sure to follow @ISUABE on Facebook and @isu_abe on Twitter and Instagram. We are also on LinkedIn (type “Iowa State University Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Alumni and Friends” into your search bar).