Driven To Succeed: The Future Is Bright For A Group Of Young Engineers Building The Car Of Tomorrow

May 2, 2019

Anna Delaney applies numbers to the side of the car. 2022, the year the students will graduate from college.

In the UPR original series Driven To Succeed, we’ve been following seven college freshman and their mentors as they work to build a wirelessly powered electric car. In this second installment, we get to know the students a bit better, as they work through the trials of engineering a car using brand new technology.

The students have been participants in the GEAR UP program since seventh grade. Melia Balls is the program coordinator for their cohort.

“It’s a federal grant from the US Department of Education. It has two foci - getting students into college and encouraging integration of STEM into high school to prepare them for college.”

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. Chase Miller used the program to visit universities when he was choosing a college.

“They pretty much just prepared you for college and gave you whatever resources you needed," he said. "At my school they had a college-go day and they went all the way up to Boise State and all the way down to BYU and you could go to any college throughout the thing and check it out and they’d give you a tour of the campus and that was all funded by them just to get you involved and excited to go to college.”

Britney Dikwa-Nkruma used it to prepare for her ACT.

“I thought of it as a second counselor, but tailored to getting you ready for college and preparing you for heavy exams that they’re going to look at those scores and judge you, like the ACT. So, for example, I did a camp up here at Utah State my junior year, and it was a camp that helped prepare us for the ACT, and also for our senior year and what to expect in our senior year.”

This is the final year of the program for these students. If they can successfully finish their freshman year, they’re much more likely to finish a four-year degree and graduate. In the final year of GEAR UP, the program is focused on helping them get through this all-important first year of college.

So, how is it going? The overall consensus seems to be fun, but…

“Overall, college has just been a blast for me. However, it has also been pretty stressful, especially this semester. I love everything I’m learning, but sometimes I think it’s going to kill me.”

This is Heidi Daniel. Her teammate Simon Rhoufiry expressed similar sentiments. 

"There’s been a couple stressful times but so far I’ve just been having fun with my classes and I think this is better than my high school experience, honestly,” Simon said. 

Britney acknowledges her transition wasn’t seamless.

“So, first semester was a little rough, not like, 'Oh, my gosh - college - what is this?' But the course load and how heavy it was.  I knew it was going to be heavy, but I didn’t realize how heavy but I survived and this semester is a lot easier because I’m taking a lighter load.”

This semester, in addition to their normal classes, the students are teaming up with the Sustainable Electrified Transportation Center, or SELECT, at Utah State University. They are building an electric car that can be charged wirelessly, while in motion.  Simon is working on mounting the charging coils to the bottom of the car.

“We have a coil mounted to the bottom of the car that’s facing the ground," he said. "But, what happens is as the car moves, we’ll also have pads that are on the ground with anther coil and as the car moves over those ground coils. What will happen is the power will transfer from those ground coils up into the car’s coil, which will then charge up the batteries as it moves.”

There are four upperclassmen working with the students as engineering mentors, but they also give the students advice on how best to cope with the stress of classes and living on their own for the first time. 

Kevin Killian is a junior this year.

“Transitioning into college was a little tough for me," he said. "Get yourself out of your comfort level. Like if you’re comfortable sitting in class and just taking notes and going home and studying your notes like that’s cool, but you should talk to that person sitting next to you.  Definitely talk to your professors if you’re ever curious about their research.  Ask them about it - ask them if you can volunteer.  If you volunteer you’ll get that experience and they’ll be more willing to have you TA for their class or whatever."

John Mirmigas is also a junior.

“In the interview for the job is when I found out that I would get to work with freshman and mentor them.  I really love that sort of thing - I like to teach people," he said. “You don’t have to, like, be some sort of whiz to choose a field in the engineering domain, whether that’s all the different kinds of engineering fields, or computer science, or anything in the STEM field." 

You may not have to be a whiz to work in STEM, but these young people definitely are. And they have big plans to make huge contributions in their fields.

DJ and his teammate Anna Delaney plan to work in space science. DJ is mostly interested in manned-space flights.

“There’s so many start-up rocket companies out there," he said. "That’s the dream - that’s what I want to do, really.”

Anna wants to build tools for both manned and unmanned space exploration.

“It’s always been a lifetime goal for me to go work for NASA.”

Simon is going to work on aircraft.

“My biggest love is pretty much aviation.”

Britney is going to work across fields.

“I want to go to medical school and become a doctor. So I’m hoping to be able to apply my engineering major by learning how to build prosthetics or something, or learn how to grow an organ." 

Working with SELECT has given the students, including Heidi, an opportunity to get hands on experience working on an engineering problem.

“The wireless power transfer and stuff like that, it’s been really interesting and it’s also been cool because in my physics class right now we’re going through a unit on electromagnetism and that sort of stuff and learning the actual physics behind how this works," Heidi said. "People are looking into putting this technology into highways and as they do that it would be more feasible to move towards electric cars and with that comes a greater need for more sustainable sources of electricity, of what people like to call green fuel.”

The students have spent about two months planning, programming and building the car up to this point.  As the race nears, the pressure is on. Whitney DeSpain, the computer engineering mentor, has been busy writing programs in several computer languages.

“So, we’re using a mix of different technologies right now, on the tablet that’s going to be on the car," she said. "We’re just making an Android App and that’s in Java. And then we also have to program the Py that’s sending the data to the Android tablet and I don’t know what that’s going to be programmed in. But the server is going to be programmed in NodeJS and also use HTML and stuff for the display purposes. And that’s pretty typical for computer science projects for stuff like that is to mix a lot of different technologies and languages together.”

The electrical engineering team is also hard at work. John is helping his group finish up their portion of the project.

“We’re working on the system inside the vehicle that’s monitoring basically anything we can think of inside the vehicle. Once we complete that, we’ll move to something else in the project,” John said.

“You know, it’s crunch time. We had the chain pop off of the car, but Ryan fixed that so, it’s all coming together in the nick of time,"

Ryan Bohm, a senior laboratory engineer at SELECT. He supervises all of the work on the car and teaches the students how to work safely in an engineering laboratory. 

Despite the frenzy, the team shows confidence in their work.

“We try to be thorough so there’s less room for error. That way it goes nice and in the end it’s perfect,” Britney said.

In the next and final installment of Driven To Succeed, the students will take their car to the annual Greenpower Utah race at the Utah Motorsports Campus in Erda. This is where the rubber hits the road - pun entirely intended. 

Driven To Succeed programming is brought to you by our members, USU STARS! GEAR UPand Rocky Mountain Power. Supporting student innovation and clean transportation solutions in Utah. Details at rockmountainpower.net