How to Be a VIP

Tandon Launches a “Vertically Integrated Projects” Program

VIP - Vertically Integrated Projects Program Collage

Tandon students will attest that they accomplish a lot over the course of a single semester. It can be hard, however, to move on from an exciting topic or favorite professor once the semester is over. What if there were a way to work on a real-world project so big and so important that it spanned almost your entire academic career?

At Tandon, students now have the chance to find out, thanks to the new Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) Program, under the direction of Professor and Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Academics Peter Voltz. Tandon joins a consortium of elite schools throughout the world that have instituted the VIP program.

VIP was created so that learning isn’t fragmented into years, semesters, or class periods, and scholarship isn’t slotted into rigid disciplinary silos. It aims to encourage the type of long-term, in-depth learning that keeps students engaged and improves career preparation.

Beginning sophomore year, students can apply to work on one of several major projects, including:

  • The ReprintBot, a proposed all-in-one system that will allow users to recycle used plastic bottles to make 3D printing filament and then use the filament, which will be coiled and stored right in the unit, to print an item.
  • The SpaceX Hyperloop Pod, a conveyance meant to speed freight, and eventually passengers at nearly 700 miles an hour through a visionary transportation system conceived by Elon Musk.
  • NYU-X, a collaboration with the School of Nursing aimed at emerging technologies that could lead to innovative health care.
  • Smart Cities Technology, a collaboration with the Center for Urban Science and Progress, the Rudin Center for Transportation, and the Urban Futures Lab that will focus on the vital issues of air pollution, water quality, food access, energy use, electric-autonomous vehicles, and public transportation.

Students from all majors collaborate on a project for up to three years, earning a credit each semester. “Because the projects are multidisciplinary, we are structuring the teams so that they include students from a mix of departments,” Voltz explains. “This gives people from electrical engineering, computer engineering, integrated digital media, and other departments a chance to work alongside one another, just as they’ll be expected to do when they collaborate on large multidisciplinary projects out in the work world.”

Participants take on increasingly responsible roles on the team as they progress. New members are mentored by faculty and grad students, then they, in turn, mentor newer students and ultimately step into leadership roles as older students graduate — tracing the trajectory they might take over the course of their professional lives.

Voltz hopes that as the VIP program evolves, more professors will join Nikhil Gupta (ReprintBot), Matthew Campisi and himself (Hyperloop), Jack Bringardner (Smart Cities Technology), and Winslow Burleson, Jeremy Rowe, and Luke DuBois (NYU-X) in participating. “Our faculty members are central to making the VIP Program a success,” Voltz says. “It’s a great opportunity to get students excited about a design project and to get them into the new MakerSpace to do hands-on work.” As with the School of Nursing collaboration, other schools within NYU might generate possibilities.

Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan envisions even more programs that will have real impact and will also help create well-rounded engineers who can cross both disciplinary and cultural borders. “Integration of this type will require knowledge of context, history, and culture — not simply technical mastery of engineering skills — to enable teams to tackle complex, real-world problems,” he explains. “A team figuring out how to improve air quality in a city in India or a factory in West Virginia will need to acquire multi-disciplinary training in other fields in order to understand the necessary context for addressing those challenges.”

It’s a great opportunity to get students excited about a design project and to get them into the new MakerSpace to do hands-on work.”
— Professor  Peter Voltz

The VIP program has been lauded for the way in which it allows undergraduates to achieve a deep understanding of a field of interest and, furthermore, to make real contributions to it. Additionally, it allows master’s students to become deeply involved in long-term research and the development of new technologies.

As an added benefit, the worldwide VIP Program, which has generous support from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, adheres well to the standards set by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which call for students to develop, among other things, the ability to design a system, component, or process within realistic practical constraints; the ability to function on multidisciplinary teams; and the ability to identify and solve real-world engineering problems.

In launching the VIP Program, Tandon joins an impressive consortium of schools around the world, including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Purdue University, Scotland’s University of Strathclyde, and Korea’s Inha University (the lead institutions), as well as Arizona State University, Boise State University, Colorado State University, Florida International University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Taiwan’s National Ilan University, Rice, Latvia’s Riga Technical University, Texas A&M, Universidad del Nortei in Colombia, the University of California at Davis, the University of Delaware, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the University of Michigan, the University of Washington at Seattle, and Virginia Commonwealth University. Consortium leaders meet regularly to network and share ideas about interesting projects, obtaining funding, and other topics.

Since Tandon and interesting projects are almost synonymous, Voltz will undoubtedly have plenty to share at the 2017 meeting. Take RePrintBot, currently in the initial design phase. The half-dozen students accepted onto the team are now working to launch a project website, cannibalizing an inexpensive printer for parts, and dreaming of how their final product might change the worlds of both recycling and 3-D printing. “We envision RePrintBot being suitable for home use, replacing the containers in which people now store their recyclable bottles,” Gupta says. “And someday maybe every Staples or Office Depot locations will have them.”

Sreenivasan asserts, “Our overarching goal in launching the VIP Program is to develop and iteratively refine a 21st century curriculum that serves to foment transformative revolution within the engineering school — demanding excellence in the mastery of engineering fundamentals while producing students who are broadly competent across disciplines, highly capable in team settings, and prepared to lead complex professional endeavors in public and private sectors.” 

VIP Info Session

Learn about the newest VIP Project, Smart Cities Technology, at an Info Session on Friday, November 4, 2016. Find Out More.