Teams prep entries for competition with real-world impact

  Tuesday, April 17, 2018 2:00 AM

Pittsburg, KS

Teams prep entries for competition with real-world impact

Large-scale natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornados happen in very geographically diverse regions, from Joplin, Missouri, and Baxter Springs, Kansas, to Japan and Haiti, but they all have one thing in common: They leave people displaced from homes.

For the fifth year, a team of students in the PSU School of Construction and a team from PSU's sister university in South Korea have worked for a semester to research, design, and construct a possible solution and will compete this week with their design against other university teams from across the country.  

Their destination: The 2018 John Brown University Disaster Shelter Design Competition in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Past years have seen them consistently place in the top three in the nation. 

This year's challenge: to design a shelter of approximately 150 square feet for a family of four that costs no more than $1,500 to build. It must be transported as a flat piece and assembled in the field with minimal simple tools such as screwdrivers, wrenches, hex keys, hammers, and rubber mallets. And it must use natural light and ventilation, and weigh no more than 440 pounds. 

On Wednesday afternoon, both teams will load their two entries onto a truck to head to John Brown University, where judging will occur Thursday through Saturday in cooperation with the humanitarian group Samaritan's Purse.  

Instructor Norman Philipp said the competition is a means of generating ideas for rapidly deployable transitional shelters that individuals and families can use after such disasters. But for students who compete, it's also a way to gain hands-on experience that will benefit them in their future careers.  

"What students are doing has real-world application, from concept to actual fabrication. Everything we do serves as open research and development for Samaritan's purse," Philipp said. "There are features of shelters that I've seen over the past five years of competing that have started to show up in the ones they're now installing. And several of our graduates who were on past teams have been recruited for jobs with relief organizations." 

Philipp, who also is a member of the Kansas Assessment Team for Southeast Kansas and part of the Emergency Management division, said he can see numerous real-world applications to what his students are designing and building. 

"When I responded to the Baxter tornado, I could have had one or two of them in my truck ready to set up in the field for an immediate office," he said. "I also could see a shelter like these serving as a field office for construction sites, or as garages for teams competing at Pitt State next month in the SAE Baja."  

With their entries, the PSU team and the Korean team will provide judges a plan outlining every cut, every part, and each step of assembly, so that their shelters can be easily replicated. This year's competition scenario was in response to the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. 

"One of the leaders of Samaritan's Purse was literally on stage at the 2015 competition giving a speech to all of us, and he got a phone call about Nepal, and he left to go to work," Philipp said. "It really hit home for students there the importance of what we're doing. It's real." 

The Korean students, from Gyeonsang National University, said they enrolled at PSU this semester to be able to compete. 

"This has been an important experience for me for after I graduate," said Raemin Kang, project manager for the Korean team. "I want to find a job in aerospace engineering, but the most important thing is communication. Every workplace is full of people, and you have to figure out how people think and help them work together from start to finish. This is a great opportunity to learn that."  

On the PSU team, the shelter is Spencer Troutman's senior project. Troutman, of Altoona, Kansas, said that when he graduates in May, he has a job lined up with Mid-Continental Restoration as a project manager, and this experience has bolstered his knowledge and skills. 

"Being project manager on the shelter has given me insight on the design-build aspect," Troutman said. I get to see everything from the concept to the final design to the actual construction build, and learn how to make modifications and do problem solving along the way." 

His team member Caitlin Crooks, of Edgerton, Kansas, who switched majors at another institution and came to PSU to major in construction management, said she'll take the shelter design competition on as her senior project next year. 

"This has already taught me so much, and next year I'll learn more, and all of it will help me in my career," she said. "I've always wanted to join a company that helps people, maybe the Peace Corps or something like that, and this is setting me up to be able to do that."  

To learn more about PSU's School of Construction, visit