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Jonathan Wenthold (left) and and Michael Berggren, (right), 2017 WIU-QC graduates, with Il-Seop Shin, associate professor of Engineering, who served as faculty advisor of their senior design project.
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PRIZM Cabin Lighting on display inside a plane serviced at Elliott Aviation.
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WIU-QC Student Project Leads to Full-Time Employment, FAA Certification

November 27, 2018


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MOLINE - Two Western Illinois University-Quad Cities alumni have recently seen the results of a one-time college coursework project take to the skies. Specifically, a project they began as undergraduate Engineering students has received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification and is being installed in airplanes serviced at Elliott Aviation in Moline.

Jonathan Wenthold and Michael Berggren both graduated from WIU-QC in 2017 with degrees in Engineering. Today, working as Elliott Aviation employees, they are seeing the fruits of their labor in the operation of electronic window shades, customized cup holders, and multi-colored accent lighting options, all of which can be controlled and configured via an app on the passenger's smartphone.

Wenthold, who came to WIU-QC from Atkinson, (IL), and Berggren, from Galesburg, (IL), began working on the project -- called PRIZM Cabin Lighting -- as summer interns for the company, which has three Midwest locations including the one in Moline. They carried it further as part of their required senior design project -- and then found themselves being offered full-time positions with the company.

"The School of Engineering has had a strong connection with Elliott Aviation for a while now, and the company offered both Michael and Jonathan full-time positions before they had even graduated," said Il-Seop Shin, associate professor of Engineering, who taught both Berggren and Wenthold and served as faculty advisor of their senior design project. "I think that really speaks to the quality of our students and program."

Berggren and Wenthold, now design engineers at the company, built a system that allows owners of private jets or company-owned planes to customize a "mood," from "Relaxation," to "Movie," to "Work" with choices of green, purple, and other colors on overhead and aisle lights.

"It's basically the bells and whistles," said Wenthold. "We looked at an existing system and thought, ‘How can we make it better?' We had a lot of liberty during the design phase.
So we improved upon it, and in addition to that, came up with something that offers a significant cost savings. It helps with the marketability of the product that we can make it so customized."

They drew plans, designed circuit boards, created a prototype, and submitted their work to many levels of testing and inspection. The interns-turned-employees both described satisfaction in seeing their project come to fruition.

"It's a great feeling, like we've really accomplished something, to have the FAA saying ‘this product meets our standards and has met the certification to be on an airplane. And now getting it to the airplane makes it real," Wenthold said.

He added that the company now hopes to add the new product offerings to their existing Parts Manufacturing Authorization (PMA) in order to sell the system to other companies.

Berggren and Wenthold recently invited School of Engineering faculty members for a tour of their manufacturing space and to see their product functioning inside an aircraft that was serviced and updated inside an Elliott Aviation hangar.

"There's never been a day where I haven't learned something new since I started this job," Berggren said to his former professors. "I don't think I can put into words just how grateful I am for everything the school of engineering has done for me."

For more information about the School of Engineering, visit wiu.edu/engineering or at @WIUengineering on Facebook.

Posted By: Alison McGaughey (AR-McGaughey@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations