Our Insights

The STEAM Team

July 17, 2020

High school students compete against school closures, collaboration challenges, and each other

A creative transmission tower design by Team High Impact.

Imagine a transmission line where the structures are shaped like sunflowers, reaching toward the sky. Or a line running through a high school campus that adds to school spirit, displaying banners on poles shaped like the school’s initial. Or think about what it would be like to be driving and notice what looks like a tiger—the nearby high school’s mascot—running alongside your car.

These ideas came from the minds of junior and senior students at Fishers High School in Fishers, Indiana, who were asked to develop creative line design solutions that incorporated not only engineering, science and math, but art and technology as well. Guided by mentors from utility Duke Energy and consulting engineering firm POWER Engineers, three teams competed over three months to develop designs that would incorporate all aspects of STEAM—and earn the winning team new virtual reality headsets.

“It’s been a real joy to watch the students, from the kickoff to presentations,” said Mark LaBarr, Duke government and community relations manager in Hamilton County. “It’s been so rewarding to see their commitment.”

The setup

Students broke into three teams: High Impact, Ducks, and Big Mach Sauce (named for a beloved teacher). All three teams needed to consider routing and siting (science), communication and presentation (technology), structural issues such as support and materials (engineering), line and structure design (art) and cost calculations (math) within their final solutions.

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, students said it was important to them to see the project through.

Teams worked together for roughly a month and a half before Fishers closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Though some members of the groups couldn’t continue once the work went remote, POWER project manager Shawn Jackson

“You’re setting the bar for the next STEAM Team event for sure,” he told the teams during the final awards ceremony. “We’re very, very impressed by what you pulled together.”

Route

Routing and siting, the process of finding where transmission line structures will be placed, can easily derail a project if a route that addresses environmental and landowner concerns can’t be found. Students were asked to find a route right near their high school campus, avoiding nearby wetlands and private property while considering existing rights of way—the science portion of the challenge.

Team member Reagan Frank called this the “most obvious route” for the transmission line, and judges agreed.

The Ducks carefully evaluated four routes but ended up choosing what team member Reagan Frank called “probably the most obvious.” The line used an existing utility corridor, running to the west and north of the campus, and avoiding major construction near busy school parking areas Emily Larson, POWER environmental project manager, said the team did the best job considering factors from wetlands and floodplains to construction impacts and tree clearing, while minimizing the impact to the surrounding community.

Technology

Student David Kim used SketchUp and IrisVR to create an interactive model of his team’s design.

All the teams needed to use technology to complete their work, but not in the way they’d originally intended. When Fishers High School closed on March 13, the teams were cut off from resources such as 3D printers and drones they’d intended to use. Instead, they adapted to remote learning and collaboration by using readily available tools such as ClickUp, an online project management tool.

Some teams incorporated technology in their presentations as well. High Impact showed judges a video of a virtual reality model team member David Kim had made via SketchUp, an online 3D modeling software, then exported to IrisVR, a program commonly used by architects. David also used an iPhone app to create an augmented reality model that would have allowed viewers to see the team’s sunflower-shaped transmission poles overlaid on the actual site.

Design

Design is where the students’ art skills truly combined with engineering and math considerations. High Impact developed a transmission line structure shaped like a sunflower, drawing on the history of a local sunflower field that had been eliminated to accommodate other construction. The poles featured solar panels that would power streetlights for the nearby roadway. However, the complexity factor of the structures meant high construction costs—to the tune of $3.3M.

Student Caroline Hensen incorporated the Golden Ration and school pride into her team’s transmission pole design.

Team Big Mach Sauce, represented by junior Caroline Henson, used the golden ratio to design a transmission tower that resembled a curved letter “F” for Fishers. Their chosen route passed by the school’s athletic fields, and the team included space on the poles for banners featuring the school’s athletes or other signs that would support Fishers’ Tiger Spirit.

The winners

In the end, Team Ducks prevailed with their simple route and balance of style and practicality. The team’s transmission towers featured simple, stylized elements of a tiger, the school’s mascot, from tail to stripes to ears.

Team member Jonied Khan said the design was inspired by series of road signs that, when put together, depict a longer saying (think Burma-Shave). The poles, when seen in sequence, are “like seeing a tiger running, almost,” he said.

The team pared down the structures to optimize both construction and cost, coming in at $372,000.  Judge and Duke senior public engagement specialist Kim Hooper said she appreciated the creativity it took to use separate elements of a tiger on each pole, rather than attempting to put an entire tiger on each.

“That was unique, how they wanted to show the components of the tiger—it was really like a minimalist piece of artwork,” she said.

Team Ducks’ minimalist design drew praise from the judges for its ease of construction and aesthetic appeal.

Dwayne Wright, judge and senior transmission design engineer for Duke Energy, noted that the Ducks seemed to have the best balance of each STEAM discipline. In addition, he said the team impressed him by making up for the departure of their engineering-focused team members by digging into existing standards and using Google Earth to simulate field visits.

“A lot of engineers might not have backgrounds in certain things, but we’re very resourceful,” he said. “Engineering isn’t just about putting your head down and doing calculations, it’s also about using your resources to get the job done. In this case, going out and confirming your results in the field.”

Persistence

All the teams impressed the judges with their dedication. In all, only six students had to drop out, and a few more had to scale back their participation. The students remaining said that while it was difficult at times, they felt compelled to follow through on their commitment.

“We all wanted to prove we could do this,” said Caroline of Team Big Mach Sauce. “We all agreed that we started this project, and we’d see it through to the end.”

Caroline, whose team missed first place by less than a point, was named the competition MVP not only for presenting such a great solution, but also for pulling together much of the team’s final project on her own.

Fishers High School principal Jason Urban capped off the final awards presentation by letting students know how proud he was that they’d persevered.

“At some point during the journey, you were given opportunities to quit, and you didn’t,” he said. “When we talk about Fishers pride, that’s what we’re talking about—those situations where you’re not quite sure you can do it, but you jump in and do it anyway. I saw that in all of you today.”

For more information on the STEAM team program, please contact POWER project manager Shawn Jackson at shawn.jackson@powereng.com