$50,000 PepsiCo gift helps UNT engineering students gain hands-on experience

Claudia Taylor

Each spring, the UNT College of Engineering Design Day lets seniors work together in teams to solve engineering challenges faced by real companies while getting valuable hands-on experience. This year, two UNT teams got a boost thanks to a $50,000 gift to the college from PepsiCo and its subsidiary Frito Lay.

In addition to funds for the two teams’ projects, the gift included one-on-one mentoring with PepsiCo engineers and time in the company’s research and development labs in Plano. One team built an automated biodiesel processor that turns waste vegetable oil into biodiesel fuel, and the other built a system that slices potatoes more uniformly for making potato chips.

Adam Avis (’12) earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology from UNT while working full time for PepsiCo. His own senior design project was sponsored by the company, for which Avis has worked for 25 years.

“My senior design team built a mobile vending platform – a cart that is solar-powered and can independently cool sodas,” he says. “In that process, I realized what kind of value the senior design project offers for our company, and I’ve set out to increase that collaboration between PepsiCo and UNT ever since.”

Avis, a packaging engineer, and his colleagues worked closely with the two UNT teams, monitoring expenses, advising the teams on what the company wanted and making sure the teams finished tasks on time.

Avis has worked hard to build the relationship between the UNT College of Engineering and PepsiCo. He encourages colleagues to come to him with ideas for future senior design projects, and he invited his UNT mentor, Seifollah Nasrazadani, professor and associate chair of engineering technology, to speak to PepsiCo managers about UNT’s state-of-the-art engineering facilities.

PepsiCo’s gift included a $10,000 donation to the Engineering Dean’s Excellence Fund to support future senior design projects. Avis hopes the partnership between UNT’s College of Engineering and PepsiCo will continue to grow and benefit not only his company, but also future graduates.

“My goal would be for PepsiCo’s research and development team to look at the students coming out of this program as potential hires,” he says. “It takes a growth in relationships and the continuation of impressive results in the senior design program.”

Engineering senior Joseph Swearingen, a member of the team that designed the potato-slicing mechanism, says he and his teammates have already benefited from the design challenge and from PepsiCo’s mentoring.

“The project opened our eyes to tackling real engineering problems — all the things you can’t really learn in a classroom,” he says. “This experience has really given us a leg up.”


Above, UNT engineering students work on an automated biodiesel processor built for Engineering Design Day this spring.

Photo by Jonathan Reynolds/University of North Texas