Engineering ‘Good’

Dagmawe Mamo
Dagmawe Mamo (ThreeSixty Journalism)

What qualifies as good? Dagmawe Mamo, a mechanical engineer who graduated from the University of St. Thomas, believes “good” comes from being holistic. As an example, he helped design a hydroponic system for a nonprofit that grows a variety of foods right in your own home. 

Senior clinical design is a two-semester class that all engineering students must complete. The class pairs students with a professor as a mentor, and the class is set up to teach students about the design process. 

“Even with a given project it has us working interdisciplinary. … Even with mechanics and electrical working together, they are working on the same project. A big part is working as a team, and staying consistent and showing up every day,” Mamo said. 

Seeds Feeds is a nonprofit that focuses on giving food back to the community specifically through growing plants. Its website states the organization is “dedicated to growing food to nourish people, community and the earth.” 

For senior design for the capstone project, Mamo and his team partnered up with Seeds Feeds. 

Mamo’s team consisted of three mechanical engineers and one electrical engineer. 

“They (Seeds Feeds) came to us to discuss a system that would notify about plant growth.” Mamo’s team had a smart hydroponic system that would notify the user whenever the system was showing signs outside of perimeters, such as pH levels and nutrient levels, and whenever there was a leak. 

“They were happy with the results. The plant growth was very noticeable, and everyone was in disbelief, (wondering) if we had cheated,” Mamo laughed. “It was fun and was a very successful project.” 

Mamo reflects on change throughout the course of the project and emphasizes that communication is key. “There is just so many factors with people working together. Having us work together for six months, there were a lot of positive affirmations.” 

Mamo emphasized that through this project he learned the importance of people skills, which isn’t often thought of as a skill needed in that field. 

By helping a nonprofit, not only did Mamo improve his engineering skills, he also became a better version of himself. 

“If you are your best self and achieve everything you want, it will be the best for everyone. This approach is best for building a community.” 

“Engineering is very hard but rewarding. It is a very human skill and trait where … problem-solving is engineering. You are not only learning technical skills, but [using] problem-solving skills that are applicable in everyday life.” 

Hydroponic systems only use water, sunlight and nutrients. 

“Think of this as a professional athlete getting everything they need to be the best — from food to great work out to perfect recovery. That’s similar to what we’re doing to the plants. The water and the cycle are perfectly at an angle where it is absorbed.” 

Mamo’s team was tasked with designing a hydroponic system that could be used by someone who was unfamiliar with it. The final design was able to detect when there was a leak, monitor multiple systems at once and provide the plants with only the wavelengths of light they need. The team accomplished their goal and handed off the final design. 

Any engineer will tell you everything being used on a daily basis is designed with intent behind every screw, shingle or touch screen; but intention alone is not sufficient in many cases. 

Going into higher education with the intent of earning an engineering degree, Mamo was faced with what kind of engineering he wanted to do. He explored a few different fields, but was limited in career options. And finally, after a friend mentioned mechanical engineering, Mamo had decided. He was going to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. 

The intent of becoming an engineer was there, but earning the certification is just the beginning. Knowing how those intentions will piece together is what makes or breaks a design. 

By choosing a broader major, Mamo is now able to pursue different projects, such as the hydroponics system, and broaden the scope of what virtual reality can create. 

A holistic approach is never without intent. Trying to separate intent from holism only results in meaningless distinctions. 

Everything’s intentional and your reasoning is good. And you have a more holistic view of it, not just you’re given the small part in doing that, but you have an understanding of the whole product. 

You can approach it by focusing on your little piece of the pie or you can see the whole bakery, like Mamo has. 

Asa Williams contributed to this report. 

This story was produced with the University of St .Thomas Marketing, Insights & Communications team. Student profiled St. Thomas changemakers involved with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at the university at Winter News Team.

By Nickel Tom, White Bear Lake ALC