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It took Tyler Knowles and his team of fellow UCF students a few tries to figure out how to design something that would help hobbyists land their rockets more efficiently.

He tried wings. He tried reverse propulsion.

“We didn’t want to be shooting a flame toward the ground,” said Knowles, a 23-year-old aerospace engineering student from Riverview near Tampa.

So the group decided to embed a GPS-guided system within a parachute-like glider that deploys when the rocket hits peak altitude.

The project was one of 130 shown off by students in the school’s engineering programs Friday.

Senior Design: From Rockets to Fish

A walk through several buildings on campus revealed solar-powered vehicles, GPS units for first responders, a virtual reality view of a slave’s life designed for the school’s history department and a voice application built for Red Lobster.

One group built a fishing boat that minimized noise by using electric propulsion and other tech, enhancements that could help fishermen increase their catch.

The showcase had corporate support, too.

Large tech companies such as Lockheed Martin, Siemens and Duke Energy set out specific challenges for teams of students to tackle.

Siemens, for instance, got a team to build a computer simulation designed to help speed up assembly time of robotic devices.

The goal of the program is to help students learn skills they can take with them into various industries, said Michael Georgiopoulos, dean of UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“They come along and say, ‘We want your students to create this for us,’” he said. “In addition to technical skills, (the companies) seek those who can collaborate, communicate and work well in a team.”

The Value of an Engineering Education

Engineering students are some of the most sought after graduates as the tech industry faces a potential workforce shortage in the coming years.

Contractors in the defense industry, including Lockheed Martin, Harris Corp. and Northrop Grumman, have bolstered education programs to try to stave off that shortage.

It creates a favorable job market for those who can build projects like those UCF students showed off — and sometimes in nontraditional industries, Georgiopoulos said.

“The financial industry is a particular area where you wouldn’t think an engineer could go,” he said. “But fintech companies say they are tech companies. They hire engineers and computer scientists to do their work. Companies are seeing the value in having technologists to compete aggressively with competitors.”

Augusto Chavez, a 27-year-old senior, has not decided what he wants to do but he knows he wants to work outdoors.

He said taking classes that include a final project that places him on a team with other engineers keep things interesting as he pursues his studies.

“Project-oriented classes keep that big picture of why you want to become an engineer,” said Chavez, a mechanical engineering major from West Palm Beach. “If every class could be project-oriented or project-based, it would be much better for the learning process.”