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UTC Aerospace Systems Employee Mentors South Burlington High School Students For National Aeronautics Competition

The South Burlington High School Team won first place at the 2014 Real World Design Challenge (RWDC).
The South Burlington High School Team won first place at the 2014 Real World Design Challenge (RWDC).

In November, UTC Aerospace Systems Test Engineer Richard Manning mentored South Burlington High School’s (SBHS) team which achieved a first place win at the Real World Design Challenge (RWDC), a national aeronautical design competition in Washington, D.C. Manning, a member of UTC Aerospace Systems’ STEM committee at the Vergennes, Vt. facility, reviewed the students’ proposal and mentored the team with industry guidance throughout the process.

At the Vergennes facility, an employee-driven STEM committee composed of 30 employees, including Manning, assists at many STEM events throughout the community. Erin DeBernardi, Human Resources Generalist, finds leads for potential opportunities. When Erin mentioned a new opportunity for a STEM committee member to sponsor a local team’s proposal at the RWDC, she heard back from Manning right away.

“Rich is always great about responding to requests in this group,” she said.

After establishing the connection, Manning reviewed the group’s paper then met with the SBHS team about this year’s proposal. Their work was a proposal to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to detect European corn borers, an invasive pest that results in billions of dollars in damage to US corn growers. The objective was to use targeted, localized pesticides instead of using pesticides on all crops. The team’s proposed solution was to use a UAV in sweep patterns over farms with cameras to look for a specific color that the chrysalises of the corn borers emit when attacking a genetically engineered indicator plant. Then, the team would plot which zones receive the highest concentration in a graph format and farmers could focus their pesticides in those areas.

“RWDC does a very good job reaching out to organizations to get different viewpoints in the industry. I was the sole representative from UTAS to review their paper to ensure adherence to industry practices. Every step that the students were doing was very high level – how to deploy, cover, operate, plan and market,” Manning said.

Doug Webster, State Coordinator, Career and Technical Education, felt that Manning’s involvement was beneficial for the team and hopes for future UTAS involvement with student proposals for RWDC.

“Richard was great to work with. I think it made a huge difference on how the students performed at nationals – how else would students know the process? It’s not just the technical knowledge, but students need to be around someone like Richard who knows how the design engineering process works,” Webster said.

Stephen Barner, Team Coach, was also grateful for Manning and other employees from local engineering companies that showed their support.

“The process wouldn’t work without the support of professional mentors.  The team was not advised to follow their mentor’s particular strategy, but it was suggestions from mentors that got them started, assurances as they went that their ideas had merit, and supported as they developed their solution,” Barner said.

About RWDC

The Real World Design Challenge (RWDC) is a national aeronautical design competition held annually in Washington, D.C. Each student on the winning team receives a $50,000 scholarship to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

The application for the 2014-2015 season is now available here.

About UTC’s Involvement

The primary goal of UTC’s support of STEM-related fields is to inspire and support young people interested in careers in mathematics, science and engineering. This is directly aligned with UTC’s philanthropic goal of developing future engineers, researchers and finance professionals. For more information, click here.