Hurricane Maria: Turning a Disaster into a Real-World Learning Experience in Machine Design
At 6:15 a.m., on September 20, 2017, the eye of Hurricane Maria entered the town of Yabucoa, in the southeast corner of Puerto Rico, with sustained winds of 155 mph. At 2:00 pm it exited the northwestern town of Arecibo leaving behind a degree of devastation that has been regarded as the worst natural disaster on record in Puerto Rico. Upon returning to class on October 16, 2017, the author assigned a “forensic analysis” project in his Machine Design course. It consisted of analyzing a structure that failed at a bolted or welded connection due to the hurricane force winds of Maria. The topics of bolts, welds, and failure theories had been recently discussed in class. The first stage of the project consisted of showing photographs of the failed structure to the instructor to ensure that it was appropriate. The second phase consisted of handing in the written report which included the analysis of the failed structure and re-sizing the connection to avoid failure. This paper includes the following: specifications of the project; photographs of several failed structures that were analyzed by the students; free body diagrams created by the students; the expected analysis that students were required to conduct; and observations of the instructor regarding the expertise level acquired by the students while conducting this real-world project. This project is an example of how undergraduate engineering education may be enhanced, even in the face of a devastating disaster, if the instructor is willing to adapt to the particular situational characteristics of his site to innovate and engage students in transferring the knowledge learned in class to solve a real-world engineering problem.