Software Engineering students aim to improve technology used in high-speed police car chases

Final project allows students to build skills while creating solutions for real-life challenges

Sophomores in Dunwoody’s Software Engineering program are getting an early look at what life will be like after graduation. The class is currently working on six business analysis projects with real-life clients.

Software Engineering students Ben Oluwalowo, left, and and Brendan Vandevoorde, right, work together on a software engineering project.

The projects, which will also serve as their final, provides students an opportunity to map out processes and show how technology and software can improve business practices.

But if students were expecting to improve small, predictable business processes, that’s not what they got. Instead, Software Engineering Assistant Professor John Columbus has ensured that these projects go beyond a stereotypical setting — and that some of the solutions could even be life-saving.

Students drive solutions for high-speed car chases  

“One of the projects students are working on involves identifying areas of software integration in high-speed police car chases,” Columbus explained. “I want the students to focus on real-world problems, and right now, car chases are a significant issue for the police.”

St Paul Police Officer Terry Erdman discusses high-speed chases with Software Engineering students.

To better explain the current landscape of high-speed chases, Officer Terry Erdman from the St. Paul Police Department visited the class. During his presentation, Erdman outlined the different types of car chases, the challenges of those chases, and what types of technological advancements could be made for more effective chase outcomes.

“Students learned that there are really two types of chases,” Columbus explained. “In a residential chase, suspects try to keep turning left and right to lose the police. Buildings obscure vision. Even helicopters can have issues following cars because of the trees. And during chases on highways and freeways, suspects use incredible speed to try to get away from the police.”

Both situations are dangerous for those involved and those on the road.

“If we could use technology to track the car without the suspects realizing they are being tracked,” Columbus said, “we believe the number of collisions could be reduced.”

Creating the software solution is a welcomed challenge for Brendan Vandevoorde, who already has an interest in safety and security. Vandevoorde currently works security at Valley Fair and has since spoken to several Shakopee police officers about the project.

“I learned that as of now there is a strict no pursuit policy,” he said. “So, we are now trying to come up with a way to implement a drone system for police departments. The idea is instead of having an officer pursue a chase on the road — which could cause risk to any other driver on the road — a drone would be used to follow the car from the sky.”

Vandevoorde explained that the drone would have an autopilot system capable of targeting and following the suspect’s car at all times. Law enforcement could then move on the suspect more discretely once they and the car are either off the road or in a more opportune location.

Real work, not homework

The project is a perfect example of how students can build skills — and confidence in themselves — while solving real-life problems.

“Dunwoody’s teaching style is to have students do real, meaningful work,” Columbus said. “And this project does just that. Students learn better from actually building something of value rather than completing made-up work. The skills they learn in this class can be used throughout their careers.”

Vandevoorde agrees.

“It’s a slow but very important and detailed process to go through to plan and create software,” he said. “We are still only scratching the surface of the requirements on this project. But I know this will help me be prepared for an actual job in software engineering. It’s a process that I will have to go through with any company that hires me.”

The class will continue to work on these assignments throughout the semester.

Other group projects include outlining ways to enhance the College’s student housing program and using a sensor to develop ways information can be captured and visually shared across Dunwoody departments.

Childhood travels inspire designs, career goals for Architectural Drafting & Design student

Fatima Adam looks to bright future at Dunwoody and beyond

Architectural Drafting & Design student Fatima Adam is no stranger to finding her way and forging her own path.

The oldest of three siblings, Adam was raised by her grandmother and mother in Africa. For the first 10 years of her life, she lived in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. At age 11, Adam’s family moved to the United States in hopes of finding better opportunities.

Adam attended middle school in Boston, Massachusetts, and high school in Louisville, Kentucky. A desire for a college education then brought her to Minneapolis.

And now her travels and cultural experiences are fueling her career choices.

Inspired architecture

“I chose to pursue architecture because it’s something I knew I would enjoy learning, and I saw myself going through it,” Adam said, adding that she has always had an interest in the field. “I think my experiences have shaped why I like design and the way I like to design. All of the countries I have been to are unique and simply beautiful.”

But finding the right college to study architecture wasn’t as easy of a journey. Prior to enrolling at Dunwoody, Adam studied at two other colleges in the Twin Cities. Neither were the right fit.

“I discovered that there was no way I was going to be able sit in a classroom for two hours and listen to a lecturer,” she said.

Instead, Adam was looking for an opportunity to learn hands-on in a small classroom environment. She immediately found that at Dunwoody.

“If I had known about Dunwoody earlier, I would have gone here right away,” Adam said. “Here I feel at home and calm. I like that everyone knows each other in my program, and I have found friends.”

Following her dream

This sense of belonging has allowed Adam to finally begin what she has always wanted to: a career in architecture and a desire to do something impactful with it.

“When I graduate I want to rebuild my country, Somalia,” Adam explained. “I have learned the effects the environment around us can have on our senses and our being. As someone who grew up in other countries, I know what they have and what my country is lacking. I want to bring those things in and add more. Maybe then people would consider not leaving.”

Adam hopes her next few years at Dunwoody can help her achieve this goal. She is especially looking forward to continuing to build her skill sets and uncovering her design preferences. Currently, inspiration has struck with Japanese architecture and Moorish architecture.

“They both are completely different and in different worlds…but bringing them together? That would be a magnificent idea.”

Learn more about Architectural Drafting & Design.

Community Open House marks another year of change, progression at Dunwoody

Dunwoody celebrates new space, thriving initiatives, and five years of enrollment growth

On September 28, 2018, Dunwoody celebrated a milestone: the grand opening of the College’s new Learning Commons and Welcome Center.

Cliff Anderson, Ray Newkirk, and President Rich Wagner participate in a ribbon cutting for the new space.

Current students, employees, members of the community, alumni, and Dunwoody supporters all attended the unveiling, where they were able to tour the renovation and learn about the reconstruction of the College’s former gymnasium.

President Rich Wagner also delivered a few remarks, illustrating the many transformations Dunwoody has gone through in the past four years:

“Today’s significance is the completion of this project and the recognition of the transformation of our building. And it is symbolic of the ongoing transformation taking place at Dunwoody.

 This all started in 2014, when we celebrated Dunwoody’s Centennial.

Since then, under the leadership of Dunwoody’s Board of Trustees, we have been implementing an aggressive strategic plan.

 With your support, we started the Women in Technical Careers program…we expanded the Youth Career Awareness Program…and we strengthened support for veterans attending Dunwoody.

To attract more talent into our area, we expanded our recruiting reach to cover the entire state of Minnesota, Western Wisconsin, and we are now working our way to Chicago.

 This past spring, we graduated our first cohort of Bachelor of Architecture Students.

 And we weren’t done. We heard from our industry partners that there are not enough engineers…so we decided to launch a School of Engineering.

 This fall, through a partnership with the Stadium View apartment complex on the University of Minnesota campus, we started a residential life program.

 Last year, we placed 98 percent of our students in the field for which they were trained, with an average starting salary of over $45,000 per year.

 These initiatives have resulted in five years of enrollment growth, while most institutions of higher education in Minnesota have seen an enrollment decrease.”

President Rich Wagner recognizes alumni at the Community Open House.

Wagner credited much of the College’s success to the overwhelming support it has received over the last few years and announced the public launching of the Leading the Way Campaign.

“Because of the generous support of key community leaders, we have raised nearly $40 million towards our goal of $50 million – the largest campaign in Dunwoody history,” he said. “The success of this campaign to date speaks volumes about the support this community has for the mission of this institution. Thank you on behalf of all the lives you have changed. Thank you for the passion you share for Dunwoody, our students, our faculty, and our staff.”

The College hopes to move on to the next phase of the reconstruction soon. The expansion and renovation project have been funded entirely through donations.

Future projects include a new Student Center, more student support areas, additional classrooms and labs, additional space for the School of Engineering, and restoring the historic entrance to the main building.

Employee Spotlight: Derek Hillestad, Construction Project Management Senior Instructor

Where did you grow up? 

I hail from Lodi, Wisconsin (a town of 3,000 people 25 miles north of Madison).

Where did you attend college? What is your degree in?

I started at Madison Area Technical College taking courses in criminal justice. I then transferred to the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and enrolled in the Recreation Management program. There were a few facility courses there that perked my interest in managing facilities, which inspired me to enroll in graduate school to learn more about sports facilities administration.

I completed my Master of Science degree at Ball State University and had job offers to work in various sports facilities prior to graduation. 

How long have you been working at Dunwoody? 

1 year and 2 months.

Why did you decide to work at Dunwoody?

Teaching, learning, and developing others is my passion and has always motivated me to offer the best version of myself to serve others. I have worked in industry developing staff to take on higher levels of career advancement. I then started teaching adjunct courses in 2011 and my passion for teaching and developing evolved in a classroom setting.

One of the major influencers in deciding to teach at Dunwoody was the opportunity to collaborate with administration on developing a Facilities Operations & Management program, which uses the Dunwoody campus as a learning laboratory.

Dunwoody launched its new Facilities Operations & Management program this year. Why is this program needed? 

Dunwoody has the Upper Midwest’s only two-year program in Facilities Operations & Management that is seeking accreditation from FMAC, the Facility Management industry’s highest benchmark for academic instruction.

In the last year, we have heard from well over 30 companies in the Twin Cities that the need for Facility Managers is entering a critical phase. There are so many retiring professionals and not enough talent to fill the pipeline. If you are a student, this is a great position to be in for employment.

What are a few of your hobbies?

Spending time with my wife and two boys (ages five and seven) is where you can find me when I am not at Dunwoody. Occasionally, I can be found on the golf course when we have great weather.

I am also pursing my Ph.D. in Sustainable Engineering, which takes up a lot of my “free” time.

What is your favorite movie genre? Any all-time favorite movies?

Anything my kids watch. Right now we are into Star Wars, Indiana Jones, “The Great Outdoors,” and Jurassic Park. I also appreciate our military’s efforts and service and enjoy movies like “Memphis Belle,” “Saving Private Ryan”, and “Act of Valor.”

What is your favorite pizza?

Meat lovers!

Fun facts:
  1. I have lived in six states while chasing my career.
  2. I have worked six Super Bowls and two Pro Bowls.
  3. I am a Christian.

Dunwoody helps high school students prep for MN FIRST Robotics Competitions

Free robotics seminars thrive for ninth year in a row

Sharing knowledge and best practices has always been a focal point for Dunwoody. But few departments do it quite like Robotics & Manufacturing.

For the ninth year in a row, Dunwoody’s Robotics & Manufacturing department will offer free seminars for high school students interested in joining and participating in MN FIRST Robotics.

Ties with MN FIRST Robotics strengthen

Currently offered by more than 200 Minnesota high schools, MN FIRST Robotics is a Varsity Letter sport open to all high school students as early as their freshman year. During the season, teams work together to design, build, and program complex robots. Those same robots later compete for points in both regional and state competitions. Teams and team members also compete for various awards recognizing qualities like entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation.

Dunwoody presents a Unique Engineering & Design Award, which recognizes high school robotics teams that exhibit unique engineering design solutions, each year.

The free Dunwoody seminars were designed for teams looking to brush up on skills or help new team members get up to speed.

“Dunwoody has had a great relationship with MN FIRST Robotics,” Dean of Robotics & Manufacturing E.J. Daigle said. “We have had over 1,000 students attend these seminars since we started them in 2009. I see many of the students at the competitions, and several come back each year.”

Dean of Robotics & Manufacturing E.J. Daigle shows a student how to program a Dunwoody robot at a previous MN FIRST Robotics Competition.

During the seminars, participants receive hands-on training from Dunwoody faculty and students in areas like:

  • Basic electricity and electronics;
  • LabVIEW programming;
  • Shop skills and hand tools;
  • Solidworks Design; and
  • Industrial robotics.
From seminars to careers

Those who complete the training receive a certificate of completion and are eligible for a $2,000 scholarship if they choose to further their education at Dunwoody.

And many do.

“There are more than 50 students currently attending Dunwoody that are FIRST Robotics alumni,” Daigle said. “These seminars show students how a fun competition/high school sport can easily turn into an extremely high tech, rewarding career in automation and robotics.”

The FIRST Robotics season kicks off this January. Dunwoody will host a free seminar each month up until then.

Dates and times include:

  • Saturday, October 6, at 8 a.m.
  • Saturday, November 3, at 8 a.m.
  • Saturday, December 1, at 8 a.m.

All three sessions will be held at Dunwoody.

Students can register here or contact Daigle at for more information.

Dunwoody launches Engineering in Action speaker series

New initiative brings Twin Cities engineers to campus

Dunwoody’s new Engineering in Action speaker series kicks off this week with John Callahan, Vice President of Motorcycle Engineering at Polaris Industries.

Open to all Dunwoody students, employees, and alumni and friends, the event will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 25, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Callahan will share lessons learned from his 17 years with Polaris, including his experience with new product development.

School of Engineering to benefit from series

Arts & Sciences Associate Professor Harry Edelman, coordinator of the series, said the programming was created to better introduce Dunwoody’s new School of Engineering students to potential career paths – particularly those they may not have considered before.

“Dunwoody Engineering students should be aware of the wide variety of opportunities open to them upon graduation — especially in the Twin Cities,” Edelman said. “This speaker series is intended to increase that awareness.”

The free series will continue in October and November featuring Neil Bitzenhofer and Ghassan Abdelnour.

Bitzenhofer, Software Test Engineer and Instructor at the University of Minnesota, will speak about challenges in software testing on Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 2:35 to 3:35 p.m.*

(*Updated presentation time on 10.1.18)

Abdelnour, Senior Engineering Director at Seagate Technology, will present on Tuesday, Nov. 27, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

For more information on Engineering in Action, contact Edelman at

Big plans, bigger future for WITC scholarship recipient

Dunwoody helps automotive student Amy Lee Hinz find her path

Amy Lee Hinz diagnoses a problem with the cooling system of a Honda vehicle during class.

Automotive student Amy Lee Hinz has big plans for her future. And Dunwoody’s Women in Technical Careers (WITC) scholarship is helping her achieve them.

After graduating from high school in Rush City, a small, rural town in Minnesota, Hinz was ready to see what else the world had to offer.

“I needed to go to bigger, different places,” she explained. So she packed her bags and headed to Minneapolis, planning to pursue a degree in English at a nearby liberal arts college.

It wasn’t long, however, until Hinz discovered that this was not a career path she enjoyed.

“My whole life,” Hinz explained, “My parents, my guidance counselor, my friends — everyone told me I was going to be a writer. I think I was just so young and wasn’t thinking critically for myself yet that I didn’t even consider anything else as an option.”

In an effort to find her passion, Hinz began to work a series of different jobs, ranging from online marketing to logistics to retail operations management. She even pursued a drumming career with an all-girl band.

But after nearly 10 years of trying to find something that spoke to her, Hinz recalls when she knew it was time to make a real change.

“I was climbing this corporate hill, and I realized — it wasn’t a hill I wanted to die on,” she said.

It was also then that she realized just how much she wanted to pursue a hobby that has been with her since the very beginning: fixing cars.

Coming back to Automotive

“Growing up, I would always sit out in the garage with my dad and watch him change oil, help hold the wrench,” she explained. “And, years later, I realized just how much I had grown into the car community. How I’ve done all the work on my own vehicles. How I’ve learned so many things from books and YouTube and people. And how I’ve saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars — and just how much fun it is.”

Hinz also recognized that this knowledge was a gift.

“There is a huge void of women mechanics, queer mechanics, trans mechanics,” Hinz shared. “And I think there are also a lot of people who walk into an auto shop and have a feeling that they are going to get ripped off. And it really bothered me that I had this knowledge that a lot of others didn’t have — and that I don’t have that feeling when I walk into a shop. It shouldn’t be like that. And I thought, well, I could either sit here and let it bother me, or I could become something that I saw wasn’t there.”

So in 2016, Hinz toured Dunwoody to learn more about automotive programs — and quickly discovered this is where she had to be. But paying for the education would be difficult.

“I learned I had just missed the deadline for the Women In Technical Careers scholarship, and being an unconventional, older student, I knew how much I could use that assistance,” she said.

Hinz then made the difficult decision of postponing her plans for another year in hopes she would receive the scholarship in 2017.

Her decision paid off.

WITC makes Dunwoody possible

“Receiving this scholarship means a lot,” Hinz said. “It wouldn’t be possible for me to go here in absence of the scholarship. WITC is a powerful thing. It’s given me a lot of opportunities and connections that I wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Hinz also credits having a point person, members in a cohort, and the Women’s Resource Center as other key contributors to her success.

“It really makes a difference to just know someone and know you have a place to go.”

Following graduation, Hinz has plans to start doing what got her interested in the automotive field from the very beginning: helping others.

“I’d love to develop an auto repair facility that caters to women, trans people, people of color, and then empower them to learn more about their car and how to fix it themselves,” she said.

Hinz is set to graduate from the Honda Professional Automotive Career Training program this spring.

Dunwoody College makes the U.S. News Best Colleges list in two categories

Dunwoody is 30th in Best Regional Colleges–Midwest; 4th in Best Regional Colleges for Veterans–Midwest

Dunwoody College of Technology has been named to the U.S. News Best Colleges list in the “Best Regional Colleges: Midwest Rankings” category. The rankings were released earlier this week.

Of the 91 colleges in the category, Dunwoody tied for 30th and ranked highest in the State of Minnesota. According to U.S. News, 16 measures of academic quality are factored into rankings, including retention and graduation rates, promotion of social mobility, and faculty/student ratios.

Dunwoody was also one of only eight institutions from the Regional Colleges Midwest category — and the only one from Minnesota — to make the “Best Colleges for Veterans” list, ranking fourth for veterans in the category.

Veteran and military students currently make up 12 percent of Dunwoody’s student population. Students with a military service background often find that Dunwoody’s project-based, practical education works well with their career goals.

Dunwoody provides a Veteran & Military Students Center on campus and participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which makes additional funds available to students using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

Dunwoody likely made gains in this year’s ranking because U.S. News added social mobility factors to its formula. The College has consistently performed well on such measures. A 2018 report ranked Dunwoody “Minnesota’s Best Career College” in terms of earning potential, finding that by mid-career most Dunwoody graduates earn around $73,600 per year. In addition, the Equality of Opportunity Project found that 20 percent of the College’s graduates moved up two or more income quintiles after earning their degrees, ranking Dunwoody second out of 31 Minnesota colleges in this category.

For the U.S. News rankings, regional colleges are defined as colleges that focus on undergraduate education, but award fewer than half of their degrees to liberal arts majors. Most colleges in the category have enrollment of 1,000 – 4,000 students. Dunwoody’s enrollment is around 1,300 students, and it is one of the few colleges in the category that offers a mix of both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees with an emphasis on engineering and other technical fields.

For more information, visit Dunwoody’s U.S. News & World Report listing.

Founded in 1914, Dunwoody College of Technology is a private, not-for-profit college committed to preparing students for great careers in STEM-related fields. Dunwoody’s active, experiential learning model has provided a hands-on, applied education to more than 250,000 men and women, who have gone on to rewarding careers as outstanding technicians, successful entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. Located on the western edge of downtown Minneapolis, Dunwoody offers more than 45 certificate, associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree programs in the areas of Automotive, Business Management, Computer Technology, Construction Sciences & Building Technology, Design & Graphics Technology, Engineering, Radiologic Technology, and Robotics & Manufacturing.

Dunwoody College Media Contacts

Jennifer McNeil: 612.381.3058,

William Morris: 612.381.3367,