Guiding Principals

Mentors Play Key Role in Student Success at Design Showcase

Formula SAE racecar
Formula SAE racecar
Variable Aspect Ratio Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
Variable Aspect Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

The Variable Aspect Ratio Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flies through the air with no onboard pilot. Made of lightweight composites and powered by two lithium polymer batteries, it is controlled remotely by a ground-based operator.

The Formula SAE racecar is a road-hugging power machine with a 600-cubic-centimeter engine. It weighs more than 630 pounds with a driver seated inside.

As different as these two vehicles are, there are similarities: both are projects designed by seniors at Florida Tech’s College of Engineering and both were displayed at the annual Northrop Grumman Engineering & Science Student Design Showcase.

And both involve Ken Brace.

[quote float=”right”]“When I was in engineering school, I had a local company help me with my senior project. I just feel it’s a good thing to do the same.”—Ken Brace, owner, Rapid Prototyping Services[/quote]

Brace, who owns a small, Satellite Beach, Fla.-based business called Rapid Prototyping Services, provided the body of the UAV and the air intake for the car engine—all at no cost.

More importantly, he was among a handful of private-sector experts who joined university faculty in serving as mentors for these and hundreds of other fledgling student-designers.

“We’ve taken courses, and they teach us a certain amount, but we don’t necessarily see how it applies to the real world,” said Chadwick Harvey, a senior in aeronautical engineering and team leader on the UAV project. “The mentors, they are able to guide us, lead us in the right direction, because they know all too well that this is our first time doing something like this.”

Darren Ebanks, a senior in mechanical engineering and member of the Formula SAE team, agreed.

“It’s such a big jump from just general classes in engineering to actually making the car. There is so much in between, things like manufacturing and stuff like that, that we just haven’t experienced yet,” he said. “It’s really good to have people who can kind of guide us along the way.”

Harvey’s team also had a mentor they never met in person. Christopher Neal, owner of UK-based Merlin Flight Simulation Group, would take performance parameters, control surface sizing, engine power and other data emailed to him, input that in his simulator and basically fly the plane before it ever actually left the ground.

Brace and other industry mentors often serve as showcase judges, which allows them to see the final products they had a hand in helping develop. But it is the time spent with these fledgling engineers and scientists that is most rewarding.

“When I was in engineering school, I had a local company help me with my senior project. I just feel it’s a good thing to do the same,” he said. “I told them when you get to be my age and a local university contacts you, you just return the favor.”

Another mentor and showcase judge is E. Lee Marcum, a partner and chief research and development officer at Clean and Green Technologies.  He has worked with Florida Tech faculty and students since 2006 and helped at this year’s showcase with the Wing Wave Life and Energy System from the College of Engineering ocean engineering program.

“I am proud of our continuing association with FIT,” he said.

—Adam Lowenstein

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