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PHS club wins state design challenge

PRINCETON — The Princeton High School Industrial Technology Club was recently named Illinois State Champions in its first ever Real World Design Challenge.

The club beat out fellow schools around the state with their project design of a lighter-than-air aircraft, which had to carry a small-scale density scanner to provide early detection of the European Corn Borer.

The annual challenge is sponsored by several companies, including Parametric Technology Corporation, and provides an opportunity each year for students to build aviation devices which could solve real-life issues.

The PHS Industrial Technology Club is led by PHS teacher Tim Ciesielski and includes project manager Josh Wray, chief engineer Ian Nichols, design engineer Jacob Gleason, operating systems engineer Luke Gleason, sensor systems engineer Elliott Beetz, agricultural specialist Jacob Bickett and IT and science specialist Clayton Zelenik.

As state finalists, the students will take their project design to Washington, D.C., in November and compete against fellow state champions and teams from other countries.

The club has only been around since last year. Ciesielski explained he wanted to start the club in hopes of getting more students interested in the engineering field.

“We decided to do the technology club with the sole purpose to do this worldwide challenge,” he said.

This year’s project had to prove early detection of the corn borer would prevent crop loss and could save large farms millions of dollars. Ciesielski said the students mathematical analysis figured their invention could save a farm of 1,500 acres about $26,000 a year.

“We don’t worry about this as much in the states, because we have biologically engineered corn,” Ciesielski explained. “They don’t have that in Europe so they do have issues with it, and that’s why this challenge was developed.”

The club received the challenge in November, started the work in January and found out on Easter Sunday they had won.

“I was so excited I could hardly text the students to let them know about their win,” Ciesielski laughed. “Our goal this year was only to get into the challenge and learn from mistakes we made. We never thought we’d win.”

The students worked with engineers and a system administrator at LCN. They were able to give students advice on their design and insights on real world engineering.

The students are super thrilled with the project and opportunities they have encountered. While they admit it was hard work, which sometimes left them giving up Saturdays to study and work on the design for hours, it was all worth it in the end, and was overall a fun experience.

“We were all burnt out on it at the end, but if we knew we would have been winning we probably would have been burnt out on it,” said Nichols. “We we’re all definitely saying ‘I just want to be done.’”

They all agree that a chance to work with LCN and real engineers is what really put the experience over the top.

“It was pretty cool to see what a career in engineering might be like,” Jacob Gleason said. “We’re all looking at colleges, and it gave us a taste of what that might be like.”

The students plan to spend their summer, again at the library, fine-combing their project and preparing a formal presentation, which they will have to present.

If the students win the national challenge, they will all receive $50,000 scholarships to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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