A BEACON of Productivity
ECE Undergraduate Students designed a new app alongside Westinghouse Electric Company LLC to help employees monitor their nuclear power plants
When working at nuclear power plants, it isn’t feasible to take an entire workstation on the go – a common, inconvenient problem for some customers of Westinghouse Electric Company LLC.
Undergraduate students Mikayla Bernhard, Zachary Degore, and Beryl Sin in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering partnered with the company through their ECE Undergraduate Industry Project class to design new software technology that brings the Reactor Engineering office straight to an employee’s palm.
The company had been selling the same software products since they were initially developed in the mid-1990s. Westinghouse officials wanted to adapt the user interface of the flagship products to update them for a new generation of workers.
“First, We were hoping to leverage the expectations and experiences of a new generation to help drive our software forward,” said Vincent Penkrot, fellow engineer at Westinghouse. “Second, Westinghouse is looking to attract a new generation of engineers to nuclear power. We want to build a pipeline of potential interns and identify potential future employment candidates, especially considering the doors working in nuclear can open for young electrical and computer engineers.
“We were all up to the challenge, especially considering the opportunity to work so closely with Westinghouse,” said Mikayla Bernhard, a senior at Pitt.
The team ultimately designed a mobile interface for the BEACON Core Monitoring System, an app that helps Westinghouse customers monitor their nuclear power plants. The app uses data provided from the power plants and displays the data for the user, anywhere and anytime.
Students needed a full semester to design the app with the design process being overseen by Professor Minhee Yun, who noted that he was most instrumental in helping to expose students to professional environments.
“Developing an app is not in my background, but I knew I could help the students learn about teamwork and collaboration at a level that was unknown territory for them,” Yun said. “I helped them write their final report and rehearse their final presentation before showing it to the stakeholders at Westinghouse.”
Yun continued that this class is based in the “real world,” which can be intimidating to students, however, he saw they were more than capable.
“I knew that they had it in them from the beginning,” Yun said. “I was able to watch them grow in confidence from beginning to end. Eventually, they didn’t need me anymore in meetings.”
The road to the new BEACON System interface wasn’t without its bumps. The team ultimately decided on designing it for Android devices because of the app’s needs. All the students were iPhone users.
“None of us were familiar with Androids at all,” Bernhard said. “That was a huge learning curve – even just learning what the home screen looked like on an Android device.”
Because of its immense size, Westinghouse was able to provide students with subject matter experts and professional mentoring to help guide them through the process and answer any questions they may have along the way.
“There’s so much specialization and feedback that we were given access to,” Bernhard said. “ In one instance, a Westinghouse team member noticed that our app wasn’t accessible to those with disabilities. I’m not sure we would’ve thought of that without that extra help. We were able to address the problem well before our final presentation.”
Westinghouse stakeholders reacted overwhelmingly positively to the new BEACON System and have begun implementing it after the final presentation.
Bernhard said that she and her classmates felt more accountable to produce a quality final project knowing they were producing something that would help launch their careers as engineers.
“It feels really empowering that we exceeded their expectations,” Bernhard said. “We weren’t just going to class – we were going to work.”
BEACON is a trademark or registered trademark of Westinghouse Electric Company LLC, its Affiliates and/or its Subsidiaries in the United States of America and may be registered in other countries throughout the world. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Other names may be trademarks of their respective owners.