Four Oswego students are currently in Trinidad and Tobago designing prototypes for the Caribbean country's national musical instrument in the new course "Engineering the Steelpan," taught by electrical and computer engineering faculty member Marianne Hromalik.

Hromalik, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, earned a SUNY Chancellor’s Grant for Innovative Study-Abroad Programs for 2017-18 to support creation of the course and to defray costs of the four students traveling. The instrument, which resembles a steel drum, has “a very complex shell” that involves layering to create a distinct sound, Hromalik explained. “There is a lot of folk knowledge about it but not a lot of scientific knowledge.”

The students will work with Hromalik to create a prototype that can measure the vibrations of the steelpan, ultimately trying to further the scientific knowledge related to the instrument. The initial prototype and testing will be part of a multi-year project, with future classes returning to refine the process.

The ECE 337 elective in signal processing and systems modeling  "introduces students to advanced measurement instrumentation and provides them with experience with data capture, analysis and Finite Element Modeling of real-world vibrating systems," Hromalik explained in the grant application. "This course also contributes to the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context. Students will be working on research projects with faculty and graduate students from multiple disciplines and multiple cultures, which will prepare the students for both industrial and research careers in engineering."

Student Samantha Carey is leading a takeover of the @SUNYOswego Instagram account (#LakerTakeoverTT) documenting the process and their cultural experiences (it's one of two current takeovers, the other being led by Olivia Botting on participants in the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative, #LakerTakeoverPR).

"We are a group of Electrical and Computer Engineering majors studying the vibrations of the steel pan in Trinidad and Tobago for 4 weeks" at the University of the West Indies, Carey explained. On Sunday, July 29, that took a practical and fun turn, as Carey captured photos and videos in Port of Spain of both a steelpan orchestra playing and a steelpan band at a street festival.

The $4,000 SUNY grant was matched by the college's Office of International Education and Programs, while the electical and computer engineering department contributed another $2,000 to make the opportunity available to students at greatly reduced costs.

“It’s a fascinating engineering topic that includes a cultural component,” said college Associate Provost for International Education and Programs Joshua McKeown. 

“In my eyes, this program is reflective of everything that’s relevant to study-abroad today,” McKeown noted. “There’s a curriculum embedded. It’s our first international program for electrical and computer engineering. It’s very important to our continued STEM growth in international program. It’s our first program in Trinidad and Tobago, and extends our Caribbean initiatives.”

SUNY Oswego News will post a more comprehensive story from additional interviews once the class returns.

Designing a steelpan