Student Spotlight: Samantha Jeffrey

Hi, my name is Samantha Jeffrey and I am a 2nd year masters student in textile engineering at NCSU. In 2014/2015, I was assigned the "elephant" collar" phase II as my senior design project with David Harris and Laure Koepnick as my textile team members (we were also partnered with an electrical engineering team). 

Our task was to take the previous year's elephant collar prototype and further create a collar that was both "elephant proof" and had the electrical components integrated, to help reduce the human elephant conflicts. When we were in South Africa, in March of 2015, we came with 2 collars. One collar was to test the durability of the material selection and construction, where no electronic components were housed inside the collar; and the second collar had all of the electronic components integrated into the collar; however, the collar was not durable due to the fact that we needed access to the electronics and we were testing out different electronic housing units.

The ability to go to South Africa and work with the elephants, first hand, was extremely important to the project for a few different reasons. The ability to work with the elephants gave the textile team the ability to see how the collar fit on the elephant, as well as how the collar and elephant interacted through balance, weight and the shapes of the components. On the other hand, being up and personal with the elephants truly gave an extra push to the purpose of the project. The elephant interactions and seeing them in their natural habitat was much more meaningful and powerful than anything you can see on TV (or Netflix), which was further motivation to truly fine tune the collar after prototype testing. 

The goal of the elephant collar is to aid in reducing the human elephant conflicts between local villages and wild elephant migration patterns. In many of these local villages, their sole financial means and food source rely on the crops that they grow; however, many of these crops are being raided by elephants, due to their natural instincts to find food. The conflict has resulted in villages fighting back by killing many of the elephants that are intruding, yet when the elephants feel threatened, they fight back, which has caused the death of many humans as well. The collar would not solve the human elephant conflict, but it would be one tool in the toolbox that could help reduce the conflict, to reduce the deaths of both humans and elephants, as well as to save the food and revenue sources for these struggling villages. 

Although the goal of the elephant collar project was to help save the lives of elephants and impoverish villages, I can safely say that this project saved me and my life. I won't get into details, but I hit a "rock bottom" moment around the same time that I was assigned to the project. Once I hit that rock bottom moment, I knew the only direction that I could move was up. Some days were much harder than others, but as time went on, I began to learn more about the impact that this collar would bring to both the elephants and the people who are being affected, and my motivation drove me to keep my head down and work hard towards this goal of reducing human-elephant conflicts. The elephant collar gave me something to work on, and to keep me focused on a goal during the tough times that I encountered. In addition, the hard work resulted in the team going to South Africa and to experience these animals, first hand, which is something I cannot even find the words to describe how incredible the experience was. If it was not for this project and the impact that would result from the completed collar, I am certain that I would not be the person I am today. 

In addition, as the project went on, I became increasingly more interested in elephants. When I was not working on the elephant collar, or other classwork, I turned to "doodling", where I began to play around with drawing elephants. After the completion of my first "elephant doodle", I showed my boss, which resulted in him printing the design onto a woven fabric, where he then hung the tapestry on the wall of the lab. Towards the end of my senior year, a department head at the college saw the design and instantly offered to sponsor me through graduate school. So I can safely say that if it was not for the elephant collar, I would not be where I am today, finishing up my masters degree.