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Colleges and universities throughout the nation moved to online learning for the fall semester to safeguard the health of students and faculty. For many students participating in the 2021 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Collegiate Wind Competition (CWC), this means they will be meeting with their teammates virtually and building their competition turbines from home.

Read tips from 2020 Turbine Digital Design Contest winner California State University Maritime Academy (Cal Maritime) and 2020 Project Development Contest winner James Madison University (JMU) on how teams can practice social distancing and stay on track as they prepare for the 2021 competition.

Plan Ahead to Stay Ahead

Key to success in any project is planning ahead. The Cal Maritime Turbine Design Team used a Gantt chart to help them plan their work for the 2020 CWC.

“We planned out a high-level overview of our semester with a Gantt chart,” recalled Cal Maritime 2020 Turbine Design project lead Sam Rodriguez. “Then we’d continue to revisit this Gantt chart and start filling in lower-level details.”

Planning ahead also makes it easier to pivot if and when challenges arise—like colleges moving to remote learning mid-semester. To help illustrate the importance of starting early, the JMU Project Development Team created a graphic showing both their ideal and actual timelines of work for the 2020 competition.

“You can see that that top row of ideal scheduling is almost too good to be true,” explained JMU alum Jamie Mears. “And you can see that our actual schedule has a lot of work included at the end. That was for a variety of reasons, but no one knew we would be in the situation that we were in [in spring 2020].”

The JMU Project Development Team created a graphic showing both their ideal and actual timelines of work for the 2020 competition.
To help illustrate the importance of starting early, the JMU Project Development Team created a graphic showing both their ideal and actual timelines of work for the 2020 competition.
Image courtesy of James Madison University
Echoing this observation, Trevor Brown of Cal Maritime encouraged students to take every opportunity to complete work ahead of time.

“You really never know when something unexpected can happen,” said Brown. “Whenever you get the opportunity to work on something, do not delay working on it. Do what you can whenever you can, wherever you can.”

Do It Yourself

In this new age of social distancing, many students work from home or from  their dorms, which includes preparing for the 2021 CWC. However, with a little ingenuity, students can safely tackle even the hands-on elements of competition prep by setting up their own workspaces and creating their own components.

Cal Maritime set up shop in a dorm room last spring, where they created their turbine generator using a 3D printer they bought themselves. Not only did this approach ensure they could continue building their turbine, but it also allowed them to create a customized generator rather than buy a pre-built one.

Taking this approach, explained Cal Maritime team member Taylor Sprague, means “you can match what you want in specifications rather than dealing with what you get when you buy [a pre-built component].”

A Cal Maritime Academy dorm room where the Turbine Design Team set up shop and 3D-printed their turbine generator.
The Cal Maritime Academy Turbine Design Team set up shop in a dorm room, where they 3D-printed their turbine generator.
Image courtesy of California State University Maritime Academy

Stay Connected

Both Cal Maritime and JMU cited the importance of regular contact during a collaborative effort like the CWC. Cal Maritime recommended meeting on a weekly basis to provide progress updates and help solve problems.

“Every Monday, we’d sit down as a team for an hour,” said Rodriguez. “We basically turned it into a class of our own, where team members shared the progress they’d made or shared difficulties they were having and see if we can solve it together as a team.”

Students have plenty of digital communication tools to help them follow social distancing guidelines and still stay in touch with their teammates.

“Slack, GroupMe—whatever you choose to use with your team—it’s vitally important to have those meetings and conversations available,” said Mears.

To hear more tips for CWC success, check out the 2021 Turbine Design Contest Kick-Off Webinar and the 2021 Project Development Kick-Off Webinar.