Welcome to the start of a new year at Tech! The majority of you already know the ropes, but with each year comes a new segment of our Hokie population that do not. I’m talking about our beloved freshman, of course. For those of you who are new to the Correspondence, what I have generally discussed in past issues has been the status of the various teams and projects in the Ware Lab here on campus. However, I’d like to dedicate this month’s Ware Lab Correspondence (WLC) to bringing the new Hokies up to speed. For my non-engineering, business-oriented upperclassmen readers, I recommend paying careful attention to the last section of the article. Professor Risen of the Marketing Department here at Tech has been collaborating with the Ware Lab to provide you with a first- class, real world application of the marketing principles you may be studying now.
What is the Ware Lab and what does it do for me?
Hopefully, as a new student at Tech, you already know what the Ware Lab is, or have at least heard of it. On the other hand, there is so much going on in every corner of campus, it’s understandable if you haven’t! The Joseph F. Ware Jr. Advanced Engineering Lab, located on the right side of Stanger Street, on your way from the center of campus towards Surge, is easily recognizable. It is one of the few brick buildings on campus. Typically there’s at least one of the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team’s (HEVT) most recent cars parked in the lot out front. These vehicles would be indicernible from a lineup of General Motors (GM) cars fresh from the factory if not for the fact that they are plastered with decals over their white paint.
These decals come from sponsors who generously donate money to aid the team in budgeting for its project. What the sponsors receive in return for their funding is name recognition. The decals plastered on HEVT’s car demonstrate to the world GM’s dedication towards the advancement of automotive technology and towards the education of the next generation of engineers. However, GM’s donation does not come without benefits. It also serves as an admission ticket to a front seat, interactive showcase of us: the next generation of engineers.
Companies are as interested in observing and vetting us as we are in them. One avenue for them to accomplish this is by sponsoring an engineering design team whose focus relates to their industry. A resume can detail to a company all of the capabilities you ought to be able to perform given your training as an engineer, but until they see how you apply your training to actual engineering work, you are still just a question mark. As part of a Ware Lab team, you have the opportunity to begin bridging the gap between class- room theory and the type of actual engineering design, analysis and testing, from conception to fruition, that you would be expected to perform in industry. Perhaps you’ve heard things like this before. Nevertheless, what I want to stress is that companies are paying money to gain proximity to Ware Lab engineers in order to:
A. Support their efforts
B. See the students in action
C. Establish relationships with students in the hopes of offering them positions within their companies
The Ware Lab is by no means the only way to gain work experience. As a Hokie, you have access to world class professors who are involved in research, and are generally interested in giving you a shot, granted you show the initiative to seek them out and the dedication required to succeed.
However, participating in the Ware Lab does offer the dual benefit of providing just that — work experience, in addition to the mutual interest between participants and the sponsors to establish professional relationships.
Lessons from My Ware Lab Experience
At this point I imagine that you might be saying to yourself, “Well this is all well and good, but guess what? I’m just a freshman. There’s no way a Ware Lab team would take me on. Even if they would, shouldn’t I bunker down in my studies for a few years and join when I might be of better use as a junior or senior? Maybe as a sophomore? I’m only in general engineering, what use would a Ware Lab team have with me?”
Man! That’s a lot of questions you just rattled off, but I’m going to try to touch on all of them. The point I will be trying to drive home is that you should get started as soon as you are able. Get started this semester if you can. Last year, I was where you are now. I was fresh off the boat to college and searching for ways to get plugged in. Luckily, Tech has an event called Gobblerfest that is held within the first few weeks after the fall semester begins. You’ll know it is happening when you see a sea of foldout tables popping up across the Drillfield one morning. Most organizations use Gobblerfest as a massive recruiting event, so this is the best time to go see what Tech has to offer. It was during this event that I had my first interaction with Human Powered Submarine (HPS), a Ware Lab team whose aim is to design, fabricate, test and compete a submarine propelled by human power every two years. After speaking with members of the team and taking a peek at the dual-pilot linear drive train and new electronic system that they had integrated into their latest submarine, my interest was captured. I filled out the application and received an email a while later informing me that I had made the cut. It was that simple. I wasn’t even the only freshman to be selected to join; there were four other freshmen that joined the team that fall.
So to answer the previous questions: the Ware Lab teams do take on freshman. Not only can I say this is true from my own experience, but after being on the team for a year and interacting with upperclass members, I can understand why. Essentially, the earlier they can get their hooks into you, train you and then retain you, the more valuable a team member you will be during your junior and senior years. You will already have learned the ropes, been to competition and have an understanding of how the team operates and the overall design cycle that the team goes through. It doesn’t really matter that you are not an expert in hydrodynamics, electronics, coding or mechanical design. If you have those skills to bring to the table, congratulations! You are officially a catch! Young, malleable and already knowledgeable? They’ve already prepared their vows; Ware Lab teams want to marry you. If you do not have any of these skills but show interest, dedication and willingness to learn, then you are where I was when I first started.
Finally, on to the final question: what use would I be to a Ware Lab team? I understand better why they might want to recruit me now, but what would I actually be doing as a new freshman recruit? The answer to this probably depends on the team you are trying to join and what stage they are at in their design cycle. What I can do, however, is provide you with insight from my own experience. As a freshman recruit to HPS, it was wide open as to what I could get involved with. At first, I felt at a loss because I was still expecting someone to tell me, “Go do this.” I was never assigned a sub team, nor tasked with a project. It was left to me to decide where I would help out and how I would make my contribution. So, the next meeting after I had joined, I started talking with a team member, Dominick, about the work he was doing for the team. He explained that he was a senior majoring in aerospace engineering working on a variable-pitch propeller design for P7, as well as a process that would streamline propeller design for HPS in the future. This sounded cool to me, so I teamed up with him. Dominick shared access to the team’s electronic copy of Principles of Naval Architecture and I began studying the chapter devoted to propulsion. Having only taken Advanced Placement Calculus, I did not understand any of the derivations provided and overall, I probably grasped fifty percent of the content I covered. Nevertheless, my aim was to develop a conceptual understanding of the variables involved so that I wouldn’t be at a complete loss when talking to Dom. After this self-study period, Dom showed me how to work the program he was using to do most of his propeller analysis. We hunted for trends that would inform the design process and later presented our findings to the team. Come spring semester, I experienced probably the worst case scenario for a freshman on a Ware Lab team. A set of skills became necessary to further assist in the propeller design project; a set of skills that I didn’t have. I found myself out of a job. To clarify, I wasn’t booted or anything dramatic like that. I simply made the judgment call that my lack of knowledge in coding rendered me a hindrance more than anything to the propeller design project. So what did I do? I refocused my efforts!
I floated over to the life support and safety sub team. One of the responsibilities up for grabs was to fabricate the windows for the submarine ports so I volunteered. As it turned out, none of the upper-classmen members of the team had been directly involved with fabricating the windows for the last submarine. After some detective work, I pieced together that the windows had been fabricated by screwing a sheet of Plexiglas to the hull and molding it with a blowtorch. This struck me as a difficult, imprecise procedure, and after trying it, I decided there had to be a better way. So, in the spirit of the work I had done with Dom, I shifted the focus of my project from designing windows for P7 to developing a new process by which HPS could fabricate sub windows for any submarine. The solution I arrived upon was a vacuum former, which offered a repeatable procedure that did not rely on fixing the plastic being molded to the side of the hull. In theory, this means that we could produce spare window sets, something we hadn’t been able to do easily before.
You can see the final product in the pictures provided. A lot of research, AutoCADing and experimenting went into its creation. The vacuum former itself is made out of medium-density fibreboard, plumbing parts I picked up at Home Depot, two shop vacs that are owned by HPS and two wooden horses also owned by HPS. I machined the aluminum frame that holds the plastic right in our very own HPS project bay. The vacuum former performed well during its first preliminary testing session last spring and I’m confident that we will be able to use it to produce some great sets of windows this fall.
So, what was the point of telling you all of this? First off, to share with you the kinds of things you might do as a freshman Ware Lab participant. If you are like me, you probably won’t have any technical expertise to offer, and will likely have a lot of freedom in the ways you support the team. I got to see and do a lot of cool things as a result of being a part of HPS that I thought I would never be ex- posed to as a freshman. Most importantly, however, I think that the experiences that I’ve shared with you demonstrate a strategy that has worked extremely well for me during my first year of college: Seek out opportunities that push the boundaries on what you think you are prepared for. Learn through expo- sure. Be open to failure and adaptable enough to recover. Part of the fun of being on a Ware Lab team is that it provides a context for your education. You can see why you are learning certain things, or you can discover what you don’t know, which may be just as empowering.