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Working with Interns at Coupi

by Jerry Johnson
Dec 23, 2018
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Given that Coupi, Inc. originated from university-applied research, we have a strong interest in working with university students. Our goal is to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education through mentorship and real-world experiences in problem solving, analysis, and modeling. We also want to bring fresh perspectives into our company at every opportunity. These interns demonstrated the value of what they have learned in school, and they helped Coupi achieve some of its priority goals.

Recruiting the Best
The Coupi team worked with six interns for summer 2018. Four were recruited from the Alaska Space Grant Program (https://spacegrant.alaska.edu/) and UAF’s The Center for Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship (https://www.uaf.edu/centerice/) internship programs. We recruited for technical maturity, diversity, and the ability to work well in a team. These four worked in Fairbanks, in the Center ICE facilities.

Diversity and Teamwork
Two interns were mechanical engineers: one, a recent senior headed to graduate school, and another, a junior, who also has degrees in mathematics and marine biology. Another intern was a computer science graduate, also headed to graduate school, and the fourth was a junior in Civil Engineering with extensive experience in customer relations.

The Fairbanks interns worked as a team in an open office, which encouraged ease of communication and working with each other to problem solve and brainstorm. Their diversity of training and experience meant that each brought different points of view and approaches to the project that proved to be very productive.

Three of the Fairbanks interns focused on testing the Coupi discrete element method (DEM) model on Mac, Linux, and Windows operating systems, on improving the user manual, and on providing bug reports to Coupi DEM developers. The fourth intern tested the effectiveness of the user manual (that is, he used only the manual as he learned how to use the platform and CIME), and he provided feedback to the writers. He also provided outreach and education by cold-calling potential customers.

We encouraged teamwork between the four with an agile management approach, in which short-term goals were set and daily standup meetings held to address three questions:

(1) What did you accomplished yesterday?
(2) What is planned for today? and
(3) Are there any problems or challenges to completing today’s goals?

These standup meetings lasted no more than 10-15 minutes. They kept the team up-to-date on all activities and identified challenges so that solutions could be developed early. As the interns became familiar with Coupi DEM, they moved from basic testing to developing more advanced models, to testing the limits of Coupi DEM capabilities. Each Friday we held a weekly meeting with the UAF interns, where they could assess how the project had moved forward over the week. They could also bring up any topic for discussion.

Examples of intern-developed models include a Galton Board, pharmaceutical tablet manufacturing, blood flow, vortex flow of particles, and snow accumulation on uneven terrain.

Interns for Bedford and Kiev
Two more interns were recruited for our other offices. Vladimir Kulchitsky, working in the city of Kiev, in the Ukraine, with our programming team, is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, majoring in Physics and Math; and Ivan Kulchitsky, working in our Bedford, New Hampshire office, is a second-year undergraduate student in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech University.

Vladimir worked with the Coupi team to add technical content to the Coupi DEM software; he studied, modified, and implemented a triangulation and re-meshing algorithm, allowing imported CAD models to have a triangular mesh optimized for DEM simulations as well as triangulate any smooth surfaces to use them in Coupi DEM model.

Ivan helped conduct laboratory-scale tests of the behavior of a steel ball dropping onto a flat surface using Little River Research and Design plastic angular particles. He also conducted Coupi DEM 1:1 scale simulations of the tests, allowing us to compare measured data with simulation results for verification and validation testing. He performed slow-motion recording of the experiment and matched it to the simulations.

Both also contributed to improving the user manual.

With Agile Management, Everybody Benefits
The interns, mentored by company founders Johnson and Kulchitsky, learned about agile project management, teamwork productivity, developing physical models, technical writing, and working in an industrial process for code development. They developed self-confidence in presenting their ideas, describing their work, and presenting their results. They also learned important skills in approaching potential companies and individuals unfamiliar with Coupi whom might profit from our consulting expertise and Coupi DEM capabilities.

This was the first group of Coupi interns, and the youngest group of professionals I have ever mentored. I found that the agile management system and the standup meetings are effective tools, no matter the expertise or age of the team. It is also essential to developing team cohesion and individual self-confidence. As I worked in a near-by office throughout the summer, and I could see and hear the advantages of their collaboration. Their contributions to Coupi DEM are invaluable.

Check in with us for more entries, as some of the interns describe their summer experiences in their own words.

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