October 11, 2008
CHS Tech Club charts path for future engineers
About 20 students interested in technology have joined the club that formed last spring
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland High School teacher Tom Herting, left, and seniors Cody Smith and Kyle Quail look on as Will Fickenscher tests out the fit of the driver’s seat in the Aerocoupe electric car they are building.
Will Fickenscher leaves Cortland High School for part of two days each week to intern at Pall Corp., revising drawings and putting them on databases for mechanical engineer Randy Klock.
Fickenscher, a senior who has been using computer graphic design software since ninth grade, plans to continue his mechanical engineering studies all the way to the doctoral level.
That’s why, in addition to the internship, he joined the high school’s Tech Club, which was formed last spring by technology teachers Chuck Petit and Tom Herting. That’s also why Fickenscher has been helping to prepare the club’s new Aerocoupe electric car for competition.
“I love technology — a lot of my future will be based on it,” said Fickenscher, who balances his internship with courses and playing football.
He’s not alone. The club has about 20 members interested in technology-based college majors and careers.
Earlier this week in Herting’s classroom, the students prepared the one-person, oval car’s polystyrene body for racing next spring, cutting out the cockpit. They also took apart bicycles for parts, with Herting and Petit’s guidance.
The dome-like fiberglass windshield and the polyester chassis part of the one-person car sat nearby. The car has one wheel in back and two in front.
Senior Corby Reynolds, who wants to be a tech education teacher like Petit and Herding, buffed the cockpit’s rough edge along with seniors Kyle Quail and Bennett Gallow, who wants to enter the building trades.
Senior Cody Smith, who plans to study biomedical engineering in college, helped Fickenscher and other students decide which bicycle parts could be transplanted in the car.
The club plans to compete in April against 13 other high schools in a New York Electrathon event at Burdick Drivers Village, North Syracuse. A race entails doing as many laps of a racetrack as possible in an hour, before the car’s batteries run out of power. The driver wears a safety suit similar to what a racecar driver would wear.
Auburn and Cato-Meridian tied at the recent Electrathon Fall Classic at Oswego Speedway, doing 72 laps. Cicero-North Syracuse was second with 61 laps. Next spring’s event would be similar.
The car, powered by two 48-volt batteries, was assembled from a kit made by Blue Sky Design of Oregon and cost $1,850 plus $300 in shipping costs, according to the company’s Web site. The shell is pre-formed.
Petit said the money was arranged through the school district, courtesy of Superintendent Larry Spring.
Spring said the club and car were unanticipated expenses, but he found money in funds that weren’t going to be completely used.
“I would like to grow this into a course in global energy and sustainability,” Spring said.
Herting said the club could use community help, through auto body paint, 12-volt batteries for the car’s control unit, team T-shirts and corporate advertising painted on the car’s shell.
Petit has proven resourceful at finding funds before. The 21 computers, computer-operated milling machine and printer he uses in teaching Auto Computer Animated Drawing were purchased by a 2006 grant from Tompkins Cortland Community College’s technology department, sponsored by Pall.
Petit said Klock has sponsored high school interns for years, and former students now work at Pall. Smith’s father, Tim, is also a mechanical engineer at Pall.
The Tech Club focuses on teamwork — it doesn’t have officers — the future of transportation and the students’ interests, Petit said. He and Herting formed the club last year after pondering how students in their classes might benefit and because “they’re such good kids,” Petit said.
“I’ve always been interested in the biomedical field because of prosthetics, ways to improve the human body,” said Cody Smith, who is applying to Drexel, RPI and University of Rochester. He joined the club just this fall.
Gallow said the car relates to his interest in building trades because it involves analyzing the technology involved. He said technology has fascinated him since ninth grade.
Reynolds said he loved the technology classes at the high school so much that he wants to follow Petit and Herting as a teacher, perhaps even enrolling at SUNY Oswego, their alma mater. Reynolds is an intern in their courses this fall, helping with lesson plans. He also balances football with the club.
“This club seemed like a really good opportunity,” he said.
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