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East County Wednesday, Jun. 13, 2018 4 months ago

Manatee County students find formula for success in F1 in Schools racing

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School District of Manatee County students head for Nationals in Austin, Texas.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Riverwalk's Alana Kelly said her parents, Ed and Millie, always have pushed her to get out of her comfort zone.

Working with the F1 in Schools racing program, you could say she has gone above and beyond.

F1 in Schools challenges students ages 9 to 19 to collaborate, design, analyze and race miniature compressed air-powered cars. That means doing just about everything a Formula 1 race team would do in the real world, and that includes soliciting funds.

Brian Kendzior said his current Perspective team is made up of the most talented students he has advised.

"I have learned it is not easy to fundraise when you are 17 and not that cute anymore," Kelly said with a laugh.

Her point is well taken. She is not a little girl selling cookies in front of a grocery store trying to collect a few dollars. Taking on the role of "team manager" for the Perspective team representing the School District of Manatee County, one of Kelly's responsibilities has been to knock on the door of businesses to seek financial support.

Her seven-person team (only six can participate in an event) has a budget of $9,200 to attend the F1 in Schools U.S. Nationals in Austin, Texas, June 14-16. If Perspective finishes first or second at the U.S. Nationals, it will need to raise approximately $55,000 to attend the F1 in Schools World Finals July 18-19 in Singapore.

"Coming into it, we all were looking for a new challenge," said the 17-year-old Kelly, who will be a senior at Braden River High next semester, but who attended R. Dan Nolan Middle School with three of the other Perspective members. "We knew each other from TSA (Technology Student Association). We wanted to use our skills in a new educational experience."

She didn't consider being a salesperson one of her skills, but ended up, at least partially, in that role after being assigned team manager by Perspective advisor Brian Kendzior, a Palmetto High teacher whose previous teams have had success at both the national and world levels.

"I didn't volunteer for this role," she said. "We sought out advice and we were either going to work with (Kendzior) or against him. To do this, I had to communicate and learn to be independent. I have to keep everyone on track and work with the resource and marketing managers. It's not my favorite thing asking for money, but ultimately it's a good payoff. People can see when you are doing it for the right reason."

Kendzior, who led the Union of Massachusetts team (they flew to Manatee County several times just to work with Kendzior) to a World Finals championship in 2015, said Kelly is doing just want has been needed.

"She is cracking the whip," he said.

Kendzior became interested in F1 in Schools when his daughter, Merritt, competed on School District of Manatee teams that went to the World Finals in 2013 (Southeast and Lakewood Ranch students) and 2014 (Southeast and Braden River students).

Perspective will bring these two cars, once they add the tires, to the national championships.

"When I went to the World Finals, I was impressed how everything was handled by industry personnel," he said. "They really will critique you."

He emphasized the competition is not just a race. Teams are judged by their verbal presentation about their team, on two 10-page portfolios they put together on their engineering and enterprise, on their pit display, their engineering and design, and of course, their speed.

Kendzior explained the goal is cover the 20-meter track in under a second.

The design and manufacturing of their cars (they race two cars at an event and also build two test cars) is key to the pursuit. Fortunately, Perspective has a roster full of talent when it comes to engineering.

Leading the way is Vinh Dong, an 18-year-old who graduated from Braden River High in May. Dong's passion is engineering and he is the defending national TSA champion in the "Flight" division. He is defending his title June 22-26 in Atlanta.

"My background is in aerodynamics and that is my passion," he said.

Although he is dealing with a F1 replica now instead of designing an airplane as he did in Flight, he said the aerodynamics are similar. He also said the program includes much more than engineering.

"This is not about building a car," he said. "It's about building a business."

Other key players in the engineering of the car were Lakewood Ranch's Alex Kumar, a 17-year-old Southeast High student whose job it was to oversee the production of the car and to do engineering research, and Jaxson Bunes, an 18-year-old Palmetto High graduate who served as the design engineer.

"We did a lot of research, such as looking at the Bloodhound SSC (an engineering attempt to build the world's fastest car)," Kumar said. "We looked at a lot of engineering stuff. I want to go into engineering, either automotive or aerospace, and this competition puts you through real world applications."

The cars are designed using 3D computer-aided programs. Kendzior said the designs were tested using a virtual wind tunnel and the cars eventually were milled at Palmetto High School. He said the cars were basically made of 90% high density foam.

"We do somewhere around 100 computer iterations," Kendzior said. 

But building the car can't be accomplished without raising the money.

Ahmad Ibsais, a 17-year-old Barrington Ridge resident who will be a senior next semester at Braden River High, serves as the resource manager.

"I've got to get the money for us to do this," he said. "Every component needs to be put into the budget and then we have to meet the budget. I had to raise money for robotics in eighth grade at Nolan, but this is a lot harder than it seems. I don't mind engaging with the community, though. We are improving our business skills and our interpersonal skills."

Hoping to make all their fundraising efforts a little easier, Rye Wilderness resident Cassandra Atzrodt, who will be a senior at Southeast, works as the marketing director of the project and Justin Schwartz, a Braden River graduate, is the graphic designer.

Atzrodt handles all the team's social media.

"Some of us have competed together in TSA," said Atzrodt, who also was a Nolan student. "But none of those came close to F1. This is a more accurate taste of the real world. For me, I've never had the opportunity to work on the business end of a project."

One of Atzrodt's skills is writing, so she prepared most of the text on the portfolios. She also writes to businesses to solicit support.

She said the program forces her to build relationships.

"In general, if you asked anyone who knew me in middle school, they would say I would not talk to anyone," she said. "Asking a business for money, that is so difficult, and it takes a lot of confidence. Being passionate makes it worthwhile."

Seeing the students gain skills has made it worthwhile for Kendzior to volunteer his time. The team started working on the current project last August. It was the first time in three years Kendzior found enough Manatee students to accept the challenge.

"I do it for them," he said of the students. "It's hard to get six individuals with the same passion and drive to get this done. It is a tremendous work load. It's a lot of money they have to raise and I know it can be hard getting sponsors. But this is more about a belief in the kids. When they give their presentations, they are using real world techniques. This is a real corporation."

He will continue to donate his time because he said the competition opens so many opportunities for the students.

"We have learned the importance of persistence and perseverance," Atzrodt said. "One of every 10 businesses turns us down. One day we called 80 businesses and we got three sponsors. But I know these interpersonal skills will help me."

Kelly knows she has learned a lot, outside her comfort zone.

"You need to have the right outlook," Kelly said. "You can do it.

"And I think we will do phenomenally well."

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