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Sandy Journal

Alta student explores engineering, learns leadership at national conference

Sep 01, 2021 03:21PM ● By Julie Slama

Alta High’s Tim Holt (wearing the hat) and his teammates work together to assemble a breadboard at the National Student Leadership Conference. (Photo courtesy of the National Student Leadership Conference)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

When Alta High junior Tim Holt starts school this fall, he plans to be more outgoing and allow his classmates to be heard when collaborating for the best solutions.

That’s something he learned and practiced this past summer while attending the National Student Leadership Conference.

Held at American University in Washington, D.C., Holt selected the engineering intensive program from more than 30 fields to study; this allowed him to explore several engineering fields and gain leadership skills during the 18-day session. 

During the program, 30 students from around the world — including his roommate from Spain — were divided into teams, from seven to 15 students, and had aerospace, mechanical, electrical, naval, chemical, civil and other engineering challenges to meet. They also had projects to work on at the same time.

For example, Holt’s team built a remote-controlled car and a SeaPerch, which was driven and glided on the water. The goal was to collect a ping pong ball, a tennis ball and a buoy in a small swimming pool.

Their remote water vehicle “was essentially an open-faced rectangle with a whole bunch of netting around it,” he said, adding that they attached a motor waterproofed with wax to the unit.

“We had to come up with a design for a robot that we thought would float and a design for our controller, like ‘what do we want here, switches or buttons or do we even want to use those?’ We started brainstorming our design and we decided that simpler would be better,” Holt said, saying they took in consideration that they needed to be able to gather and collect the items.

While the challenge not only helped with team bonding, Holt said it also allowed them to better understand the engineering process.

“In a project, you have people who work on the electrical side, you have people who actually build the robot, so it was really trying to show us not only the design process, but all the different parts,” he said.

Another time, Holt and others created a catapult and trebuchet out of provided materials, such as PVC pipe, sand weights, paper clips, string, duct tape, bungee cords, plastic cups and bowls, to test which tool could launch tennis balls the farthest, as well as closest to a target.

“It was really cool to see the process of what we did; we only had two days to build them,” he said. “The team I was working on divided up the work and designed these really cool machines.”

Holt’s team was able to launch the tennis ball about 20 feet. 

A long-term project they worked on was their “product pitch” which was to create a possible solution to one of 14 grand challenges for engineering, which range from making solar energy economical to providing energy from fusion. 

Holt’s group selected to improve urban infrastructure.

“The project we ended up doing was injection mold the steel frame and then have these walls that slide in, really streamline the construction process,” he said, adding that it would eliminate stacking frames on top of one another. “You can build buildings significantly faster and cheaper.”

Researching construction of a typical one-bedroom apartment, Holt found that it cost about $67,000. With their method, it would decrease the manufacturing cost to $10,000. 

“It’s a lot more material and labor efficient,” he said.

They created a prototype out of balsa wood and cardboard and explained how they would fill the mold with steel rather than plastic, which would corrode too easily. The result would be identical pieces that would last longer.

Creating projects that work isn’t new to Holt. With knowledge from being on his school’s robotics team and as a member Alta’s stage crew, he worked on a boat that not only “glided” across the school’s performing arts stage for their musical, but it also rotated while the cast sang. This summer, he’s worked on creating a flame thrower “for fun.” Five years ago, he and a group of friends were nationally recognized for creating and patenting a device to scare away migrating birds from nesting near airports.

What was new for Holt, who would like to pursue studying engineering in college, was learning the ethics behind engineering. 

“We looked at an engineering disaster; my team chose the Hindenburg and we had to state the ethical issues behind the Hindenburg,” he said. “We talked about all the reasons people died and the reasons why it goes against the ethics of engineering.”

The Hindenburg was a German passenger-carrying airship that caught fire while landing in New Jersey in 1937. More than 35 people perished on board and on the ground.

“They deliberately built it, despite the fact that they couldn’t get helium, so they used hydrogen, which is a very reactive gas,” Holt said. “We talked about another reason people died is that there was little to no escape or safety features equipped on it and the other big issue is that the Hindenburg had a whole bunch of this paint that helps prevent it from being punctured, but it’s also highly flammable. So, when the steel cable snapped and punctured the bag, the paint helped make it burn faster.”

In addition to learning from George Washington University students and American University officials about their engineering projects and programs, Holt learned from NASA officials about their telescope they plan to launch in the 2030s.

“They showed us how it can’t typically fit to a rocket, so they devised the system to fold up to fit in the rocket, which I thought was cool,” he said. “The other thing they talked about was if we were going to go back to the moon, where would be the different places that we’d go, and they were showing us about the different craters that we could land on that would make for a good colony on the moon.”

One speaker that sparked an interest with Holt was a civilian naval engineer who designs and tests ships for the U.S. Navy.

“She absolutely amazed me, just showed me what she got to do with her job and all the different things she got to do – they have three massive wave pools, and they can simulate waves from anywhere in the world and test ship designs for the Navy,” he said, adding that the ship prototypes the size of a dinner table are tested to determine how they will react with the simulated wave action. “I found it really fascinating that we have the technology to recreate the waves from anywhere in the world and her job is testing [the models] for the different wave patterns.”

Throughout the conference, there were leadership components to the program.

The group learned about four different styles of leadership, did a conflict-resolution and compromising and collaborating exercises, identified characteristics of good leaders and matched those qualities to worldwide leaders, and examined their own leadership distinctions.

“I’m really good at being committed to my vision and taking risks, but I’m not so good at seeing all obstacles as opportunities,” he said. 

Before the conference ended, each student expressed what they learned during the program.

“I learned there’s a whole lot more to the world than my own little place in Utah,” Holt said. “The people around me have made me a better person.”