Grand Valley State University and DornerWorks are guiding New Engineers Towards Success
November 21, 2022
“GVSU’s engineering co-op program has allowed us to grow organically and sustainably with a guaranteed engineering bandwidth of student interns year-round, usually resulting in full-time and long-term engineering employment afterwards,” says DornerWorks Founder and Owner David K. Dorner.
“This has allowed DornerWorks to grow engineering talent within our own staff consistently over the years with local, home-grown engineers. And this experience has helped each and every student grow their own personal resume as we put them to work on real-world engineering projects. We are very thankful for such a tremendous engineering university program right in our back yard and are very pleased to give back as a sponsor for their new Engineering Innovation Design Center!”
GVSU’s Padnos College of Engineering and Computing has long been the main building for Electrical Engineering (EE), Computer Science (CS) and Computer Engineering (CE) students, along with Cybersecurity, Information Technology (IT) and many others. In 2022 the university unveiled the Grand Valley State University Shape Corp. Innovation Center. The new facility features lab rooms and large project development spaces that future engineers will use to design, prototype, and build. The team sponsored by DornerWorks built an American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter using a FPGA development board and machine learning algorithm from Xilinx hooked up to a camera and TV monitor. Holding up one’s hand in the form of a character from the ASL alphabet, the camera ingests the image, which is processed on the Xilinx board using a machine learning algorithm and displays the result in the form of a box around the hand indicating the character along with an estimated measure of accuracy.
Several members of this team also served as co-op students
at DornerWorks and brought their talents to work with our engineering
team during their employment. GVSU graduate, former co-op student and
current full-time engineer in DornerWorks’ Medical Solutions Group,
Kendra Francis is now gaining real-world experience working on
development the embedded software for an electromechanical prosthetic.
“GVSU prepared me for my current role in the Medical group by allowing
me to obtain hands on experience with embedded systems,” she says.
“The labs and projects within the curriculum in combination with my
co-op rotations at DW prepared me to enter my full-time career with
confidence in my technical abilities.”
DornerWorks IoT Engineering Group Engineer Josh Johnston participated in the same co-op cohort and as a full-time engineer is working with another DornerWorks team member in porting the codebase from an obsolete Bluetooth controller to a new one. “The biggest factor that’s at play in my current project is not necessarily the technical knowledge that I learned at GVSU (although that has obviously played an important role), but it has more so been my ability to teach myself new things and problem solve,” Johnston says. “My current project required me to learn a new language and to learn a new communication protocol (Bluetooth). GVSU helped me exercise my ability to do this over the years.”
FPGA Design Architect Corrin Meyer acted as the “customer contact” for the GVSU team and set the technical requirements for the project. “I helped them develop a project plan,” he says. “This involved thinking through how to approach the problem in steps that made sense. Additionally, because of this project was quite technically challenging, we developed a plan that could scale. This meant that we set a goal for the project that we thought the team could make even if they ran into a lot of difficulties.”
DornerWorks has a long and mutually beneficial relationship with GVSU’s co-op program for nearly two decades. President Shawn Isenhoff recalls joining DornerWorks 15 years ago, when an intern was occasionally brought in from one of a few universities.
“Even at that point GVSU stood out for their program, where interns have multiple rounds of internship and are therefore able to really perform at the level of a someone post-graduation even before they graduate,” Isenhoff says. “GVSU also stood out for their solicitation to both the interns and our company of what can better prepare the students for the needs we have and what can create a better experience for the students. This senior design project is an example of that relationship strengthening in that the professors were willing to stretch the design into FPGAs per our direction and this is something the professors are not as familiar with and have a more challenging time mentoring the students on. GVSU’s willingness to incorporate the needs of DornerWorks has been a steady part of the relationship we have had. That continued pursuit and consideration is much appreciated.”