Designing a tribute for Veterans Memorial Park

Contact: Cindy Wagner

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Marking graduation for Western Michigan University engineering and applied sciences students is an exciting time and a busy time. One major component is Senior Engineering Design Conference where graduating students put their knowledge to work over two semesters on projects for industry and area organizations. 

For civil engineering students Sarah Johnson, Victoria Powe and Maddy Landry working with a team representing the Veterans Memorial Park in Colon, Michigan, to redesign the park to meet the vision of its stakeholders was impactful both professionally and personally. Sponsored by Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Brett Johnson, post commander of the Colon American Legion, the team’s work was supervised by Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Decker Hains, Ph.D., P.E. and chair of the Department of Management. 

“My biggest takeaway from this project is what it looks like to make dreams into reality. Being able to work with the Colon American Legion has been very inspiring,” says Johnson who will work full time for the Michigan Department of Transportation after graduation. “Their vision and passion for their memorial project made me excited to get to work. Knowing you’re working to bring those visions to life and honor so many people who have fought for this country has been an amazing experience.” 

The goal of the Veterans Memorial Park is to bring the community together and honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. The team, under the supervision of Brett Johnson and Dr. Decker Hains, transformed an existing park into a stunning memorial that includes a granite memorial with custom statues, a helicopter-themed playground, and a picnic area for families to enjoy. The structural components of the project were calculated manually, the site layout was modeled with AutoCAD CIVIL 3D, and the construction schedule was assembled using Microsoft Project 

Powe, who will commission after graduation as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force working as a civil engineer, found that working on this project reaffirmed her decision to go into civil engineering.  

“I want to make a difference and create a positive impact on communities,” says Powe. “It is such a rewarding experience to be able to bring their project to life, especially since it holds such great community value.” 

While serving the community is forefront to the project, the team also honed their skills as professionals. 

“In the classroom, we focus a lot on the math behind engineering,” says Landry, who has accepted a full-time position at Abonmarche, Milanowski & Englert civil engineering consultants. “With this project, we got to experience a huge part of what makes up the civil engineering field – working with the client. Talking with the American Legion and residents of Colon to figure out how to make their dream become a reality was an amazing learning experience.” 

With their WMU degrees in hand, this team is ready to pursue their professional goals and to hold on to their favorite Western memories. 

Johnson: My favorite WMU memory has to either be my time spent in the Bronco Marching Band or the memories I made with Cru’s at WMU campus ministry. Through various opportunities throughout my five years, I have been able to grow as a person and in my faith. My time at Western has allowed me to grow and experience many new things before I head out into the workforce. 

Landry: My favorite memories are the small moments I have shared with the people I have met at WMU, whether it is the walks around campus, talking on the floor of someone’s dorm room, or late-night study breaks at Parkview. 

Powe: One of my favorite WMU memories is getting breakfast at the Valley Dining Center with my fellow cadets after our morning physical training sessions. Not only do I look forward to the waffles, but it’s nice to hang out with friends and have a good start to the day. It has been a tradition since my first year, and something I will miss.  

Find more information on the Senior Engineering Design Conference.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.