Brentwood athletes value trip to Malaysia for F1 in Schools competition

Friday, October 6, 2017 | 11:00 PM

Some of the brightest high school students in the world were in attendance.

A total of 51 teams from 23 countries qualified for the World Finals for F1 in Schools held last month in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia.

F1, or Formula One, in Schools is an international STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) competition in which groups of students design and manufacture a miniature car out of the official F1 Model Block using CAD/CAM design tools. The cars are powered by CO-2 cartridges and attached to a track by a nylon wire. They are timed from the moment they are launched to when they pass the finish line by a computer.

The cars have to follow specific guidelines, and are raced on a 20-meter long track with two lanes, to allow two cars to be raced simultaneously.

Brentwood was represented on the world stage by seniors Michael Casey, design engineer; Morgan Dryburgh; design engineer; Grant Davis, communications manager/specialist engineer; Ryan Schwarz, manufacturing engineer; Destinee Kellner, team manager; and 2017 graduate Lindsey Powell, fundraising/sponsorship coordinator.

Brentwood's Interstellar M1 racing team — one of only three teams from the United States that qualified for the world finals — placed in the middle of the pack at the global event.

Beau Sedlar and Jennifer Hughes provided valuable guidance to the group before and during the trip.

Sedlar is an engineering/technology education teacher at the high school.

“This competition is huge,” he said. “Over 1.3 million students worldwide take part in it, and 26,000 schools compete. We were one of 51 teams that were invited to the world finals. Our students performed at the highest level possible and they made themselves, hometown and, hopefully, country proud.

“This competition takes hundreds of hours of outside of classroom work from the students and teachers during the summer and before and after school. Our kids performed very well, and they were a well-known team that easily could've been considered for high placements in the top 10.”

Hughes is a digital media arts teacher who also serves as yearbook/newspaper adviser at Brentwood.

“Our kids were able to hang with the world's best and brightest engineering students,” she said. “It's definitely an accomplishment each and every one of them should be proud of. These students were tested to their limits and really pushed to acquire skills they will use after high school.”

Athletics on hold

Dryburgh (volleyball, basketball, track), Davis (football, swimming, track) and Casey (cross country, swimming, track) are multi-sport high school athletes. Kellner competes in track in the spring; Powell participated in volleyball in high school.

Dryburgh (volleyball), Davis (football) and Casey (cross country) saw their fall athletic season interrupted by the F1 in Schools world championships.

Not that anyone was complaining.

“Going to Malaysia was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Dryburgh, a middle hitter on the Brentwood girls volleyball team. “The competition was very intense, and I got to meet so many people from everywhere around the world. It was amazing to see all the hard work that all the teams did to get there. Everyone had a great time no matter what place they came in.

“I believe going on this trip will get more colleges to look at us and recognize our efforts. Only three teams were able to represent the United States, and we were honored to be one of them. I have gained life skills working with my other team members, and memories that will last a lifetime.”

Davis, a lineman on the football squad, echoed his teammate's sentiments.

“The trip was a really great experience, because I got to meet so many other teams from different cultures,” Davis said. “The competition taught me the life lesson of responsibility, a major lesson for college because you are held accountable for your part of the job, and if you don't deliver, you are letting your team down on a world stage.

“Of course, our team had ups and downs, but overall, I'm proud of what Interstellar M1 has accomplished over the past year.”

Casey is a member of the Spartans' cross country program; his main focus in Malaysia was the competition.

“We worked so hard to get there and that is what meant the most to me,” Casey said. “To be expected, the other competitors were fierce and clearly showed us that competing to place well would take all that we had as a team and individuals.

“While being a stressful competition, it was rewarding in itself to meet so many students as dedicated as ourselves, and to see all of our hard work come together.”

While the majority of the group's stay in Malaysia centered on the contest, there was limited time for sightseeing excursions.

“We got to go to Batu Caves, which was a Hindu shrine. There was a huge cave system and on the stairs up to the top were monkeys. They came very close to people (probably expecting food), but they were very cool to see,” Dryburgh said. “We went to Chinatown, which was a lively market district where you could find tasty street food and souvenirs.

“We also went to Thean Hou Temple, which was a huge Chinese temple. It was very beautiful and interesting to see. We got to go downtown and see the Petronas towers, which are twin towers with a sky bridge in between. We didn't get to go up it, unfortunately. We did get to go up KL tower, which is a tall, needle-point building. The view at the top was breathtaking.”

There were three legs on the trip: a two-hour flight to Chicago, followed by an 11-hour flight to Japan; then a six-hour flight to Malaysia.

“During any off time, we made sure to get out of the hotel complex to actually experience Malaysia,” Davis said. “We learned that Malaysia is made up of three main cultures of Malay, Chinese and Indian, explaining why there were Chinese and Hindu temples near Kuala Lumpur.”

The tourist aspects of the trip proved memorable for Casey, as well.

“Sightseeing, while secondary, was memorable (because) I had left the culture I grew up in,” Casey said. “The Malaysian culture hosted different religions, which was apparent at the temple we went to within the Batu Caves, and hosted a different set of standards.”

Interstellar competition

At the finals, Brentwood's Interstellar M1 team designed the 12th-fastest car, advanced to the elite eight for knockouts, and placed sixth overall in reaction time.

“The team started out as gangbusters and was seated in the top eight going into knockouts, which I was extremely proud of,” Hughes said. “This was a David and Goliath competition, and we were definitely the underdog.”

The racing team previously competed in the spring at the super regional in Manhattan, N.Y., winning the grand championship along with four other awards. The group then placed third at the F1 in Schools national finals in June in Austin, Texas.

Brentwood High School has been represented at the national finals multiple years.

“The F1 in Schools program is officially the largest high school STEM program in the world,” Sedlar said. “Teams need to produce a miniature Formula One race car that should go 20 meters in about one second. In addition, the team must complete pit plays, professional portfolios, presentations and various judging challenges. This requires the team to essentially produce an entire business from scratch; it takes over a year to complete at the highest level.”

The Brentwood students built a miniature car made of composite wood and powered by a CO-2 cartridge.

Because there were different requirements for the world competition, the students and teachers spent time over the summer months redesigning the miniature car.

“They had to cut 10 percent of the car's weight from national's to world's, which caused an entire car rebuild,” Sedlar said, “meaning they had to weaken the car on mass but incorporate strength-building elements to the car without adding weight. This is not easy to do, but we did it.”

Interest growing

Dryburgh has a 4.3 GPA and is taking five AP classes this year (physics, calculus BC, Spanish 5, European history and literature). She ranks her favorite subject as a tossup between physics and math.

She is vice president of the senior class, secretary of the Technology Student Association; and is a member of the National Honor Society, as well as the German, Pep and Art clubs. She plans to pursue mechanical engineering as a college major, and is looking into attending Pitt.

Dryburgh, who also volunteers at the local food bank, said the success of Brentwood's Noctis Formula 1 team at the world finals in 2015 helped spark her interest in the F1 in Schools program.

“Our school has been participating in F1 for Schools for awhile,” Dryburgh said. “Team Noctis was successful in the competition two years ago when they participated at the world competition in Singapore. This really sparked the interest for a lot of us because we wanted to go that far too.”

Davis owns a 4.178 GPA, and his favorite subject is physics. He has applied to Pitt for early admission, and is planning to apply at other colleges such as Penn State, Syracuse and Carnegie Mellon. He intends to major in computer engineering.

Davis is a member of the National Honor Society, Technology Student Association, German Club, Steering Committee and Spark Saturdays. He also works part-time and volunteers at the local food bank.

He has been interested in the F1 in Schools program for several years..

“Ever since F1 in Schools was introduced to me in middle school, I've wanted to compete in the program,” Davis said. “Also, seeing the success of Noctis, another Brentwood team that made it to worlds, made me determined to do just as well or better than them.”

Casey, who has a 4.326 GPA and enjoys engineering classes the most, has been accepted into the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt.

He is a member of the National Honor Society, and president of the senior class and German Club, the school's largest extracurricular club. He also is an Eagle Scout, and a percussionist (tenor drums) in the school's marching band.

“F1 in Schools originally caught my eye when I was in eighth grade and my brother Greg, a senior at the time, was added to the current year's team as the communications manager,” Casey said. “He was up a lot of late nights and had to coordinate with the rest of his team to gather information and create their portfolio books and pit display panels.

“I was immediately interested in the high caliber of work required for the competition, and knew I wanted to strive to earn a place on a future year's team.”

Giving thanks

The team's two design engineers — representative of the group — are most thankful for the guidance and support provided by their teachers, Sedlar and Hughes.

“We wouldn't have been able to go on this trip without them,” Dryburgh said. “I wouldn't have been able to have this life-changing experience. I am so thankful for all the support of my family and the Brentwood community.”

Casey added, “I cannot thank my teachers, Mr. Sedlar and Mrs. Hughes, enough for the amount of extra time they have dedicated to our team, and the support they have provided us with in our times of confusion or struggle. They have allowed me to participate in one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I will never forget their guidance.”

It indeed took a large group effort to plan, organize and conduct the trip, competing in another continent located halfway across the world.

“We would like to thank our supporters, like Pittsburgh Technical College, Lady Moon's Farms, Brentwood Hall of Fame, Brentwood Business Owners Association and the Brentwood school board, for helping us raise money,” Sedlar said.

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.


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