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NMSU College of Engineering power technology lab saves equipment from untimely end

Challenged with the quest to develop a new course and accompanying power laboratory, Rolfe Sassenfeld, assistant professor of Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology at New Mexico State University, knew it would not be easy to accomplish with a limited budget. Facing the large expense of state-of-the-art power engineering training equipment, Sassenfeld found the solution on a loading dock: Hampden Motor and Generator Test Stations to be destroyed.

Three men look at equipment on a table.
New Mexico State University engineering technology students Jeremy Laselute (left) and Mason Rust work with College of Engineering Assistant Professor Rolfe Sassenfeld (right) on equipment that Sassenfeld rescued from a loading dock waiting to be trashed and turned into an electronics laboratory. (NMSU photo)

The equipment allows students to run experiments with synchronous and DC motors/generators, measure the start-up power, stimulate loads and measure efficiencies. New state-of-the-art equipment would have cost around $150,000 for a single workstation. With the help of his students and graduate teaching assistant, Venu Siripurapu, Sassenfeld refurbished six workstations and turned them into the Engineering Technology Power Lab.

“The refurbished equipment is from the 1980s, but it works just as well as newer equipment,” Sassenfeld said.

The lab is used by the 70 students enrolled in the ECET program, which prepares them for careers in the power industry and employment at companies such as Oncor, Arizona Public Service and El Paso Electric.

“We want them to leave here with a skill set designed for the needs of the power industry,” Sassenfeld said. “All of our students get jobs after graduating—they are in high demand by the power companies.”

From a generous gift by NMSU alum Jerry Shaw, Volt Information Sciences founder, of $5,000, $2,000 was allocated by Jeffrey Beasley, engineering technology and surveying engineering department head, to assist Sassenfeld with test equipment, new cables and power diagnostic equipment required to get the lab up and running.

“The skills the students learn are absolutely fundamental and essential to their future careers,” Beasley said. “I remember taking a similar class as an undergraduate, and I found myself using the skills from that course in my job within the industry.”

The equipment is used in the Applied Power Technologies engineering course, recommended by the Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology Industrial Advisory Council as a way to give students hands-on experience with power technology equipment. This senior-level course is newly required of ECET majors.

“We want to keep NMSU graduates local,” said Margaret Ontiveros, a member of the Advisory Council and the supervisor of distribution design at El Paso Electric.

She said that this course is designed to give students a basic background in the power industry. “We’ve had good luck with the ECET department, so we hope students go in this direction.”

Ontiveros said companies like El Paso Electric look for ECET graduates who have a background in power, as well as other skills such as circuit analysis and design of electrical distribution facilities.