The University of St. Thomas School of Engineering includes a Senior Design Clinic in each of their engineering curricula, adding real world experience to each degree that prepares students to enter the work world with formal project experience in addition to broad civil engineering technical preparation.  Working with local businesses, students spend two semesters defining the project, identifying resources and regulatory criteria, choosing and defining a methodology to meet each challenge, establishing a budget and schedule, and communicating effectively with the sponsor to engineer a solution.  The Civil Engineering senior class of 2019 worked with Pinnacle Engineering, Inc. to resolve site drainage issues at the Midwest Solar Facility that impeded panel operations and were costly and time-consuming to manage.

Pinnacle identified the project, gathered historical data and assisted with large scale data gathering, including drone imagery and site mapping, presenting the students with AutoCAD files and shape files that defined existing conditions.  Soltek, Inc., who was involved with the original design and installation of the solar array at the facility, provided background information on the function of the panels, electrical converters, and the array as a system.   Students used this information to assess the solar field and design drainage improvements, including a series of detention basins, improving management of site runoff in a manner that ultimately increased the energy output from the facility and decreased annual maintenance costs. 

Their project addressed challenges of a high site water table, overcompaction of existing site soils, and a regulatory framework that prioritizes energy considers over site drainage.  The final design specified use of sustainable materials to facilitate drainage in shallow localized swales using HydroBlox®.

The St. Thomas design team included Senior Advisor Travis Welt, PhD, and three students.

Alex Reyes, BSCE, applied expertise gained working with the City of Golden Valley as a summer intern and will begin his career working with a local civil engineering consulting firm. 


Lauren Bearrood, BSCE, incorporated her interest in sustainability into the project and will soon begin her career with a local civil engineering consulting firm in Wisconsin.

Thomas Negaard, BSCE, applied structural engineering expertise to evaluation of modifications to the solar array, will pursue a Masters Degree in Architecture.

Pinnacle staff assisting with this project included Beth Keister (drainage design), Keith Rapp (hydrogeology), Arend Melby (drone pilot), Katie Hoffmann (drone work and UST Alum), Scott Thelen (wetland regulations), Arend Melby (AutoCAD and GIS support).  Shawn Markham with Soltek, Inc. provided information on the solar technology.