Cal Poly ‘Plugs and Plays’ to Win Team Tech Competition and Multiple Awards at National Conference

Cal Poly Society of Women Engineers (SWE) celebrated another banner year, with three first-place awards and special recognition of two Cal Poly chapter alumnae at the national society’s conference, held Oct. 22-24, in Nashville, Tenn.

For the fifth year in a row, the Cal Poly chapter received the Outstanding Collegiate Section Gold Award, the highest possible collegiate recognition. It was also a recipient of the Boeing Multicultural Award for “best multicultural program to increase and retain a diverse membership.”

The outstanding work of two chapter alumnae was also honored. A string of company firsts in aircraft systems testing and a passion for promoting women in engineering earned Kate Van Dellen (B.S., Aerospace Engineering, 2008) of Arlington, Texas, the Distinguished New Engineer Award. Leah Meeks (B.S., Bioresources and Agricultural Engineering, 2008) of Boise, Idaho, was voted Outstanding Collegiate Member. Meeks is now active in the SWE section at Utah State University, where she is a civil engineering doctoral candidate.

To top off an evening of awards, Cal Poly SWE also captured the event’s highest honor: first place and $5,000 for its winning entry in the Team Tech Competition, sponsored by Boeing. The year-long, multidisciplinary, industry-sponsored project involved almost 30 Cal Poly students spanning eight disciplines and was led by co-directors Nicole Slagle and Wyatt Ayling, both mechanical engineering seniors.

It is the eighth time in 10 years that Cal Poly has won the Team Tech Competition, including first-place ties between two Cal Poly teams in 2009 and again in 2011.

“We attribute this year’s win to the sheer magnitude of our project,” said Ayling, noting that the competitors are judged most on the engineering process as a whole and the teamwork involved.

“The goal was to design, prototype and test a standardized payload to demonstrate the plug-and-play civilian capability of the Desert Hawk III, an unmanned aerial vehicle made by Lockheed Martin, our industry sponsor,” said Ayling. 

Though the technical requirements were spelled out by the company, the nature of the payload itself was up to the team to develop.

“After initial research into the potential commercial markets, we chose to design an application to assist first responders in natural disasters — such as earthquakes, fires and floods — by equipping the unmanned aircraft with monitoring capabilities to help those on the ground locate lost persons and assess changing ground conditions,” said Ayling.

In addition to Ayling and Slagle, team members included aerospace engineering majors Jayse Kulesa (Riverside, Calif.), Sarah Kaye (Lake Stevens, Wash.), and Yesenia Guzman (Compton, Calif.); biomedical engineering major Ryan Eakins (Kirkland, Wash.); computer science majors Amy Tsai (Cupertino, Calif.), Annamarie Roger (Larkspur, Calif.), and Ian Washburne (Lake Oswego, Ore.); electrical engineering majors Cecilia Yuen (Milpitas, Calif.), Sara Kipps (Fremont, Calif.), Trefor Szabo (Oakland, Calif.), and Tyler Scholz (Vacaville, Calif.); environmental engineering major Tiffany Seto (Temple City, Calif.); materials engineering major Sarah Wattenberg (Trabuco, Calif.); mechanical engineering majors Alexa Coburn (Huntington Beach, Calif.), Gabby Merkin (Reseda, Calif.), Gaby Dinata (Clovis, Calif.), Jennifer Ford (Valley Village, Calif.), Lindsay Meany (Bothell, Wash.), Lindsey Chase (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.), Lydia Hedge (Auburn, Wash.), Lyndall Colrain (Redwood City, Calif.) Michela Upson (Mission Viejo, Calif.), and Rick Doyle (Evanston, Ill.); and software engineering majors Nancy Truong (San Jose, Calif.) and Paula Ledgerwood (San Diego, Calif.). Faculty advisor was Helene Finger, director of Cal Poly’s Women in Engineering Program.

“Team Tech is such a valuable opportunity because it mirrors the industry experience you walk into after you graduate,” said Ayling. “Your sponsors are almost customers, and you have to create a product that fits their vision while using your original ideas. It allows first- and second-year students to gain experience working on a team and get a jump on the technical aspect of their degree, and it gives upperclassmen the opportunity to become mentors to younger students and learn valuable skills to apply in their internships and jobs.”


Pictured: Left to right, front row: Nicole Slagle, Jennifer Ford, Alexa Coburn and Sara Kipps. Back row: Wyatt Ayling and Helene Finger (faculty advisor) at the Team Tech design review held at Lockheed Martin’s facilities in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

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