Driving through STEM with Nick Leonard

Shrikar Lekkala, Reporter

Within nine months, senior Nick Leonard turned stock metal, an engine, four tires, a couple of cables, and a steering wheel into a fully functioning Go-Kart from scratch. He essentially made a functioning vehicle from parts you would usually find in a typical garage. 

“I wanted to learn to work with metal and I wanted a project I could have a lot of fun with,” Leonard said. “It’s 6.5 horsepower, has a top speed of around 30mph, and is super fun.”

Leonard attributes his ability to create complex hands-on projects like this Go-Kart to the variety of challenging courses he took at U-High and the values he gained from them.

“I feel every category of STEM ties back to this project. And even though there is no grade, I am learning how to learn which is part of what school tries to teach you,” Leonard said. “That being said, I think physics applied best here.”

AP Physics teacher Mark Jedele thinks that projects, like the Go-Kart Leonard made, are what STEM is all about.

The project is about the journey, the final product is just the icing on the cake. Stay patient, stay curious

— Mark Jedele

“Nick definitely used multiple disciplines of science directly or indirectly,” Jedele said. “I’d imagine he discovered just as much science as he used from his prior knowledge. That’s the beauty of these types of projects. You gain wisdom about how the world works by experience, trial, and error.”

Jedele says, however, that one of the hardest portions of making large projects like this is the amount of time and patience it takes to execute a successful output.

“Almost every project I’ve encountered has an aspect that requires precise repetition of results. And if you don’t do it right the first time, you have to start over and do it again,” Jedele said. “Sometimes you are encouraged by how much better you get between trials, but other times you have a hard time being motivated to start back at the beginning.”

Leonard agrees and would suggest any future student making a passion project to make a clear blueprint before they execute a plan. 

“Without plans I would often have to backtrack when things didn’t work,” Leonard said. “Never cut corners; I originally tried to save some time and money but in the end I probably spent three times as much because I had to keep redoing those parts.”

Jedele stresses patience in his classroom through the learning process. He uses the “fail fast” methodology for students to learn difficult concepts efficiently. By allowing students to make mistakes in their work and eventually correct them, Jedele creates a classroom environment where ‘failing’ is a good thing and instills strong, persevering mindsets into his scholars. 

“The project is about the journey, the final product is just the icing on the cake. Stay patient, stay curious,” Jedele said.

In retrospect, Leonard said he gained a lot from the project other than experience. This includes a newfound mindset. 

“One thing I always say is if you want something bad enough you can make it happen,” Leonard said. “If I really want to go to a football game or hang out with friends, I just rearrange my schedule to fit in both work and fun.”

Finally, Leonard previewed his next project to be a flashlight and go pro mount for his water gun for senior assassins.

“Watch out senior class, get ready to get soaked.”