Courtney Curtis demonstrates her Window Hanging Pen Plotter.

Courtney Curtis demonstrates her senior design project, the Window Hanging Pen Plotter.

It could have been a senior-design disaster. Courtney Curtis couldn’t find a microcontroller that would work, and both her teammates had to quit the project. But she decided that it wasn’t going to stop her from finishing the senior design project all on her own. 

The goals had to be modified a bit, but she succeeded in building a device designed to draw with pens on a window, combining computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering.

It was a feat that impressed HP and Tektronix representatives who gave her awards at the Oregon State Undergraduate Expo: the HP Innovation Award and the Tektronix Commercialization Award.

“I was shocked,” said Curtis, senior of electrical and computer engineering.

The experience became even more unbelievable to her when HP offered her an internship for the summer.

“I didn't think I’d get an award, let alone two, plus an internship out of it. I just thought the senior design class would be a wonderful, hard experience. So I’m really happy with how it turned out … it could have been a lot worse,” she laughed.

The award from HP was fitting since one of her first memories of a burgeoning passion for engineering was when she took apart her family’s HP printer to figure out how it worked.

“I remember getting in trouble because the printer didn’t work quite right after I put it back together,” she said.

The original idea behind her senior design project was to create a device to save small businesses the expense of hiring an artist to draw seasonal or sale messages and artwork on their store windows. Instead they could buy the Window Hanging Pen Plotter, choose a piece of artwork, then simply let the pen plotter draw to the specifications.

“Rather than pay an artist a couple thousand dollars to hire a window painter, they could buy the device for just $300 and use it as many times as they want,” Curtis said.

In her last term, when she became a team of one, she realized that she had to scale back on the final product. What she came up with was a device that could be controlled by a phone app, like a giant Etch-a-Sketch attached by wires to a window. It drew crowds of kids at the Expo.

“That's what I liked about it — was how much it connected with kids. They were asking questions about coding, and the motors, and trying to figure out how it works. That kind of interest was what drove me to engineering, so watching that start at middle school just makes me so happy,” Curtis said.

Underlying her drive to study engineering with a focus on robotics, was a desire to help people. This passion started as a high school student when she worked with her church at a remote camp on a small island in Canada for people who have fallen on hard times. She did everything from building trails, to cooking dinner for 40, to repairing a radio on a boat. The radio repair was her first time soldering, and it restored function to a boat that was essential to the people who lived there.

“That experience is why I went into electronics. I really want to help people because I saw how I could use my knowledge to improve people’s lives,” she said.

The community feeling of pitching in and helping others out when it is needed was also her experience when it came to her senior design project.

“After I lost my group I started hanging out in the senior design lab and bouncing ideas off of other people. So there were a lot of other students in the class who were helping me out in giving me ideas,” she said.

She even wanted to put all of them on her final poster, but everyone encouraged her to take the credit on her own. After all, she was the stubborn one who refused to give up.