Seeger Chapel steeple against an orange sunset

Engineering on a mission

Students stand by water wheel in Buffalo Creek.

Students build sustainable water filtration system in Buffalo Creek


MILLIGAN COLLEGE, Tenn. (Jan. 18, 2018) — From the beginning, the mission of Milligan College’s new engineering program has been to “change lives,” according to its director Dr. Greg Harrell.

In just a year-and-a-half, mechanical and electrical engineering students have helped adapt numerous toy ride-on vehicles for disabled children in the community, as well as begin developing a solar-powered AC unit for students with health needs, an affordable personal power generation system and a sustainable aquaponics system.

Now, a team of freshmen, with the help of Harrell and Electrical Engineering Professor Dr. Jeff Giesey, are utilizing the college’s iconic 80-year-old water wheel in Buffalo Creek to construct a small, sustainable water purification system with a big goal.

“Ultimately, we want to help the 800 million people on the planet who don’t have access to clean water,” said Harrell, who also serves as a lead technical advisor for the U.S. Department of Energy Industrial Programs and the United Nations. “Perfecting the water purification system in Buffalo Creek puts us one step closer to our global goal.”

The project will culminate in the students’ senior year when they plan to help a village in Kenya of 100 people who don’t have clean water, according to Harrell, who is collaborating with Dr. Kip Elolia, an Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan professor from Kenya who told Harrell about the village’s need.

For the freshmen students involved, this project was a first-class introduction to engineering on a mission.

“We’ve seen a need in the world, and we’re trying to use engineering principles to help the community and share the love of Christ,” said Ty Wilcox, a mechanical engineering major from Kingsport, Tennessee. “Not many people have clean water in third world countries and water treatment can be really expensive. We want to find a cheaper, more efficient way to meet that need.”

Thankfully, the team was able to get the project down to $300, a drop in the bucket if it could provide clean water to an entire Kenyan village.

The water wheel began providing fresh water to the college when it was constructed in the 1930s, during Milligan First Lady Perlea Derthick’s “Milligan the Beautiful” campaign, which turned the college into a park-like setting with a fish pond and fountain. In recent years, the historic wheel had slowed to a halt due to needed repairs; however, now the restored wheel generates power for the purification system, which utilizes UV light to disinfect a stream of water.

Ethan Cole, of Gate City, Virginia, said the project helped teach him the practical effects of power generation and fluid dynamics, principles the students learned in their “Introduction to Engineering from a Christian Worldview” class.

“This project is exciting to be a part of, especially just being an undergrad and getting hands on experience with real world application that you can see being put to use,” said Cole.

Harrell said Milligan’s program is designed to do just that. Last summer, nearly half of the program’s inaugural freshmen class secured paid internships and co-ops at corporations like Eastman, Nuclear Fuel Services and Arconic.

“Our students are being exposed to the ‘rubber meets road’ aspects of engineering,” said Harrell. “This is a totally different learning experience than classroom exercises. Our students are learning how engineers really do their work.”

The mission focus of the students’ engineering projects has changed the academic work ethic of Nathan Baker, a standout runner on Milligan’s cross country teams who knows a lot about pushing himself to improve.

“It gives you more motivation to get up to the engineering labs and work when you have a spare hour,” said Baker, a mechanical engineering major. “It helps get the project to the end when you see how it applies to real life and understand who it’s going to benefit.”


Posted by on January 18, 2018.