Nine students from the U of I
traveled to South Africa this past summer on a unique study tour
sponsored by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental
Sciences. They were teamed with students at the University of
KwaZulu-Natal to work on a variety of engineering design projects
that dealt with everything from machetes to irrigation.
For instance, undergraduate students
Nick Jones and Anthony McCullough were members of the team that
studied the cutting performance of the sugar cane machete. They
spent time cutting cane themselves to get a hands-on understanding
of the labor involved; then they eventually worked on modifications
to existing machetes to improve their ergonomics and cutting
efficiency. Jones and McCullough also redesigned the cutting blade
on a motorized tool that would cut the cane more efficiently and
Alan Hansen, an associate professor
in agricultural and biological engineering, came to the U of I from
South Africa five years ago and accompanied the students on the
trip. "I guess I've always had it in the back of my mind to take
students back with me," he said. "I wanted them to experience what
it's like, because it's a great country and a great environment."
However, Hansen and co-organizer
Andrea Bohn, an assistant dean in the College of ACES, wanted to try
something different from the typical study trip.
"I had the idea of the students
working on projects while they were there," Hansen said. "I knew
that the engineering department in South Africa organized design
projects similar to what we have here, so I suggested that we pair
up the students and work as teams across the Atlantic."
In addition to the machete work,
other projects included the following:
- Seth Wenzel and Zach Waite worked
with their South African counterparts to design an automatic
weighing system to accurately measure the amount of sugar cane
lifted by a loader during harvest.
- Geri Wellen and Laura Schutte
developed a model for a low-cost microflood irrigation system that
would make efficient use of available water and increase
- Scott Dixon, Justin Bruns and
Kevin Knapp incorporated a yield-mapping system onto a John Deere
lawn mower. They set it up as a scale model for the kinds of
systems currently used on modern combines, such as Global
Positioning System receivers.
[to top of second column in
Some items of equipment, software
and sensors were purchased for the projects and intentionally left
behind for the South African students to use. Funding for these
gifts was provided by John Deere and Company and the U of I
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.
In addition to the educational
experience the students received, Hansen was pleased that they were
able to experience typical South African conditions and environments
through weekend excursions.
The students' visits to two game
reserves gave them glimpses of a "whole cross section of wild
animals indigenous to South Africa," said Hansen. "We saw warthogs,
wildebeests, elephants, giraffe, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles and lots
of birds. We visited a hide and were wonderfully entertained by some
The group also traveled to the
Drakensberg Mountains and stayed at a lodge that overlooked a
"I know from the students that this
trip had a great impact on them all," Hansen said. "I believe it has
broadened their outlook considerably and will have a lasting
influence on their academic, professional and personal lives."
The International Programs in
Engineering provided a travel grant to cover 80 percent of the cost
of airfare for the students, while the College of ACES and the
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering also provided
funding for the trip. A travel grant award from the Center for
African Studies covered Hansenís expenses.
of Illinois news release]