David Feinauer: Interconnectivity

David Feinauer’s office contains a peculiar-looking gadget. Colorful, with intricately wound copper wires, the device immediately drew the eye of Norwich University photographer Mark Collier, who began snapping pictures of it.

Feinauer reached for the object—it calls forth mental images of a UFO, but turned out to be a hydroelectric generator—and said, “This is the result of an interdisciplinary first-year engineering project. The mechanical and electrical students in separate classes came together to design it.”

While giving a visual demonstration, the electrical and computer engineering professor explained how the generator works. “Plates with large, very strong permanent magnets are put on a shaft. In a pair, they rotate over these coils. There’d be a partner one beneath. These are attached to a mechanical shaft and rotate over the coils, and it induces an electric current through the coils that is then rectified. The mechanical engineering students designed a turbine that they 3-D printed and attached to the shaft, so that as the water flows, it will spin the axle.”

In designing the coils for the hydroelectric generator, students from the mechanical and electrical engineering programs worked together to collect data, make design decisions, manufacture the coils, and verify that the device worked. “To have that added component of interdisciplinarity in a real-world problem made a strong impression on the students,” Feinauer says. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

In designing the coils for the hydroelectric generator, students from the mechanical and electrical engineering programs worked together to collect data, make design decisions, manufacture the coils, and verify that the device worked. “To have that added component of interdisciplinarity in a real-world problem made a strong impression on the students,” Feinauer says. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

As he spoke, it became clear that he was converting something complicated into understandable terms—but without dumbing down the language. His ability to communicate complex ideas is one hallmark of Feinauer’s personality, and is why so many in the Norwich community find him fascinating.

He thrives in the intellectual spaces where concepts and ideas intersect. In a single conversation, he is apt to relate engineering to art, or higher education to international affairs. He believes that to play is to invent. He missed his calling as a restaurant critic. While earning his PhD at the University of Kentucky, he also worked as an electrical hardware engineer for Lexmark. He volunteers in the community, and loves to laugh. And when he is attached to a project at Norwich, such as the monthly NU IDEA (Imagine Design Execute Adapt) Innovation Challenges, participants flock.

Hailing from Cold Spring, Ky., just a few miles from Cincinnati, David Feinauer is the third of seven children. His father is an engineer, and his mother, a teacher. He began tinkering with computers at a young age. When a financially disadvantaged school in nearby Dayton, Ky., received a donation of 30 computers from a wealthy businessman, Feinauer—then a student Bishop Brossart High School—helped set up the lab. The donor hired him to provide technical and computer services and support for his business. “One day I said to him, ‘There are a dozen businesses in this industrial park and they keep coming over here asking for my help. Why don’t we set up a tech-support business?” That is how, as a high school student, he became an entrepreneur. It is that imagination for what is possible that drives Feinauer to ask questions that ultimately lead to discovery.

And, since he arrived in 2012, he has put that imagination to use for the benefit of Norwich students and the greater community. FIRST® LEGO® League, the “sports for the mind” robotics competition for 9- to 14-year-olds, had its genesis at Norwich—and in Vermont—as a result of his efforts. He is the faculty sponsor of the Entrepreneurship Club, and his students have competed across the U.S. The Wheel Pad concept, featured in this issue, became a reality at Norwich because he happened to be at the conference where the model was presented; knowing the project wasn’t in his discipline, he still went to the effort to make the connection that brought the project to Norwich.

Because at his heart, that’s who he is—a person who sees value in interconnectivity.

Jacque E. Day

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