By Russ Chapman

Challenges are a great way for individuals to test and develop their skills, and engineering is no exception. On the weekend of March 31, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Prescott hosted their first Leading Efforts and Beyond Engineering Challenge (LEBEC). The challenge was organized and run by an ambitious group of students and supported by faculty and some well-known engineering companies. The challenge gave students the unique opportunity to work alongside their peers, as well as engineers from industry on a short-term, large-scale project.  

Students applied to the program with no knowledge of the problem they would be called on to solve. On the first day of the challenge, all the students who applied interviewed with engineers from the companies supporting the event: Boeing, Raytheon, and Edwards Air Force Base. The students were then picked for teams based on their diverse skills and knowledge and returned the following morning. 

At 8:00 a.m. the teams were promptly announced, and the engineering problem was given to the newly formed teams. The students at that point had twelve hours to organize their members, develop a design, and prove the design’s worthiness to the given problem. After multiple milestones and lots of hard work, the teams presented their final products to the faculty judges and a winning design was chosen. One of the faculty judges, Dr. Wahyu Lestari, talked about the project, “I really enjoyed being involved. This was a very good event combining creativity, academic prowess, innovation, and students challenging themselves.” 

Challenge themselves they did. The problem presented to the student teams for the inaugural competition was complex. Students were given tasked with designing a satellite that would rendezvous with and robotically capture the Hubble Space Telescope before bringing it out of orbit to return to Earth and land as near as possible to given coordinates. Naturally there were many aspects of the problem to be considered and infinite possible solutions. The teams had varying approaches, anywhere from an inflatable grip, to a flying spear meant to pierce the satellite. The winning team had a unique three-pronged robotic claw used to grip the railings on the telescope before bringing it back to Earth.  

The teams’ varied ideas and approaches speak to the ingenuity of Embry-Riddle engineers. Anthony Islas, one of the Raytheon engineers leading a team in the competition, commented on this. He said, “I think very highly of Embry-Riddle engineers and all the projects they participate in. I am glad to help with such a great learning experience, especially for newer students. The ability to work with other disciplines before their capstone will prove hugely useful to them in their future.” 

Overall the challenge was a unique experience to be a part of and a great learning opportunity for those participating. One of the team leads, Maciek Czyz, laughingly said, “This is the most fun I have had while being completely exhausted.”  

A student from another team, Monty Bruckman II, expressed similar thoughts saying, “This was kind of insane expectations for a twelve-hour project. But it was obviously doable based on all the varied designs. Overall this was a very enjoyable event and a great opportunity to interact with industry engineers!” The students involved seemed overall to be pleased with the challenge despite its difficulty and demanding schedule. 

Finally, one of the leaders of the student team who planned the event, Noor Rashid, commented on its future. She expressed the desire of the team to bring back LEBEC in the future. She said, “This is the first of hopefully many successful engineering challenges. We hope to continue and expand in the future possibly adding recruiters from the companies.” Be sure to look out for LEBEC in the coming years as it is sure to continue to be a unique opportunity for students who choose to get involved.  

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