Senior Spotlight: Alena Zeni

Alena Zeni is one of the many seniors worldwide whose last year of high school is looking quite different from what they expected. Prom has been canceled; Providence’s iconic “senior presentations” were carried out online; graduation will be a bit creative this year to say the least.

Alena Zeni, Class of 2020
Yet, while noting sadness over missed end-of-high-school memories with friends, Alena’s primary sentiment is excitement for the future—and her future is certainly bright! Alena was chosen to be an intern for NASA this summer, helping the Coast Guard design and build short-range search and rescue drones. This fall, Alena will begin her studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, where she plans to double-major in Astronautical Engineering and Global Security & Intelligence. She hopes to eventually work for a company like NASA or as an intelligence analyst.
Alena (left) helps catch a wayward drone! (It was her
idea to use a sheet to catch it and thereby prevent crash damage.)
A student in the Providence Engineering Academy all four years of high school, it was actually an elective in junior high that cultivated Alena’s love of the subject. She admits, “If not for junior high engineering, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today!” Among her favorite memories of the high school Academy include building a Tensegrity ball (a structure made of beams and ropes in which no beams directly touch one another, but are held together by the tension in the ropes) and a hexacopter drone, affectionately named “Thiccarus” due to its broad dimensions. Alena spoke fondly of the drone, admitting that her class worked so long on the project that they personified the drone as their class “child.”
Madison, Alena, Todd, and Ben:
senior members of the Providence
Engineering Academy
A field trip to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena earlier this fall is where Alena definitively found her calling. Inspired by the work of JPL, Alena decided to forgo a mechanical engineering degree and pursue astronautical engineering instead.

Alena (upper right group) poses with her class at JPL
Alena’s senior project—a capstone experience required of all graduates of Providence that involves a research paper, professional presentation, and defense of a meaningful topic—is titled “Guy-ence and Men-gineering: Pushing Back Against Cultural Barriers for Women in STEM.” Alena gives credit to a “Women in STEM day” hosted at UCSB during her 9th grade year for raising her awareness of the gender gap in the STEM disciplines. Her interest in researching the reasons behind the divide developed throughout high school and became an obvious choice for her senior project.

Among many contributing factors for the gender gap in STEM fields, Alena cites gender-based micro-aggressions, stereotype threat, explicit and implicit gender-science biases, and the competitive, aggressive atmosphere where performance expectations are not conducive to work-life balance. To combat these challenges for women in STEM fields, Alena encourages companies to consider blind resumes in early hiring procedures, expand skills required to include stereotypical female strengths such as collaboration and teamwork, and actively ensure qualified women get deserved promotions based on merit. Alena brings her Christian worldview to her research, articulating man and woman’s equal ability to image their Creator. As image-bearers, men and women are both called to create solutions for problems that arise in the world.

Alena’s and Madison’s final project for the year

Alena’s design for her aircraft fuselage successfully printed!

As Alena wraps up her senior year, her final project for the Engineering Academy involves designing a powered model aircraft with classmate and good friend Madison Malone. The duo are assembling their aircraft and planning on flight tests toward the end of May. Alena’s love for engineering is undeniably evident as she speaks with excitement to see her creation fly, citing many late nights and Zoom calls to navigate the design process in an unprecedented classroom setting.

Her final advice to younger students interested in studying engineering, math, or science? “Don’t give up on the math. It can get really, really hard… but once you have that moment where it all clicks and falls into place, it is so worth it.”

Guessing Games and Plywood Furniture

The first couple of weeks are already under our belt, and we are off to a good start in the Providence Engineering Academy! This year, we have ten determined engineers-in-training in the older group, and thirteen in the younger. The older group will spend the year studying statics—the science of things that don’t move—and the younger will be learning the ins and outs of both robotics and mathematics.

Both groups started off the year with a simple exercise to test their divergent and convergent thinking skills. Mr. Meadth had a 3D-printed model of an well-known mechanical device hidden in a box, broken down into its twelve constituent pieces. The device was unnamed, but the students were assured that they were very familiar with it, and that there were several such devices in the room all around. He brought out the pieces one by one, and after each new piece was revealed, the students set about guessing what the device could be.
Congratulations to Pedro and Alena! (And also to Claire, who learned not to second guess herself!) After only four of the twelve pieces were revealed, they correctly guessed the identity of the complete device. Sound easy? Here’s the four pieces they had in front of them when they guessed correctly. Don’t scroll down too far unless you want the answer!
Each of these little red prisms are about half an inch tall in actual size
What could the entire device be?
Give up yet?
Scroll down…
If you guessed that the complete device was a lock and key, well done!
The four prisms are on top, called the driver pins
There’s even more going on inside!

In their respective classes, Alena’s and Pedro’s prize was to build the device up from its twelve pieces, without any help from the teacher. With cheering and suggestions from their peers, Alena and Pedro were successfully able to get it all together in time!
Alena fits the pieces together in the new Room 102
There’s plenty more going on since then. To get warmed up in their “study of things that don’t move”, the Advanced Engineering I group is working in three competitive teams to produce a new piece of classroom furniture for Room 102. All three teams settled for variations of plywood lecterns (not podiums—sorry if you’ve been misusing this word). We look forward to seeing what emerges over the next couple of weeks.
Colby, Gabe, and Todd work together on their piece of modern art;
the purchased plywood patiently awaits!
Stay posted for updates on the furniture, and to find out just what it means to study robotics in the high school program. (Hint: we aren’t fooling around with LEGO anymore!)

Guest Article: STEM Without H

(The following is a student piece written by 9th Grader Joshua Frankenfield, in response to two days of discussion concerning the nature of technology, devices, and their positive and negative effects on all of us.  All students were asked to write their thoughts in the style of a blog article, and Joshua’s was selected to be published on this site.  Enjoy, leave your encouraging comments, and be grateful for our deeply thoughtful students!)

STEM Without H

STEM is an acronym that many schools have begun to use to describe their academic program. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. However, if these are the main four focuses in today’s education, there is a cause for concern. As a student myself, I would recommend adding in an H for humanities, because I believe that we’d be able to learn skills that may benefit us more later in life.

The main problem is that schools today are overly interested in teaching people how to use technology. Don’t get me wrong—technology can be useful in many ways—but there is a difference, according to Andy Crouch, an author and an educator, between the technology of devices and the technology of tools. The difference that he proposes is that tools make you work and become more skilled while devices do the work for you. If schools mainly teach on how to use devices, then the students would be prone to relying too heavily on devices in a manner where they end up not being able to grow in their skill sets. Schools that put an emphasis on devices aren’t putting as many challenges on the students. The students will end up using those devices to make those things easier when, in reality, we grow our heart, soul, mind, and strength if we challenge ourselves. Focusing on devices will diminish how well students are able to handle their own difficulties, whether it be academic, athletic, or social. Focusing on technology has another problem: to what ends will learning STEM go? STEM may eventually be focused on to the point where humanities is severely diminished.

Humanities has two parts to it: literature and history. Literature is important is because it has been a part of culture since the Epic of Gilgamesh. If we let literature slide into an area where it isn’t as important as it was before, then our culture won’t be as complete. This is shown in the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, where a world like this is described, and in it, people have esteemed literature as unimportant. The literature was being burned, and people were much less sophisticated because they had no basis of their culture. Plus, destroying literature made only one job (firemen that burned any place books were found), but it lost at least two jobs in the story: the librarian and the novelist. If we neglect literature, then this world would be less creative and less inspiring. Also, literature gives us an idea what the culture values and what concerns them. When we have an idea as to what cultures value, then we are able to connect more readily with other people groups. When connections between cultures occur, trading becomes easier due to less argument.

The other part of humanities is history. History, like literature, is a foundational part of culture. It helps us understand other and ourselves better. According to Providence’s high school Humanities teacher, Mr. Rottman, the reason we need to understand culture is so that we, as Christians, will be able to help people more in their time of need. If we don’t understand their history, then how can we understand the kinds of things the people are going through? We wouldn’t, and technology wouldn’t be able to help them either. Technology on its own is useless because it has no compassion or sympathy. History, therefore, builds up our skill in being able to show empathy for other people.

STEM without H is a horrible idea. I encourage all students and parents everywhere to take a closer look at their school. Does it focus solely on STEM and what it stands for or does it also add in the humanities aspect? If it mainly focuses on STEM, then what can you do to help emphasize the need for humanities? If it adds in the H, then what can you do to keep it that way?

Joshua Frankenfield is a freshman
at Providence, and a proud
member of the Providence
Engineering Academy

Wild West Town—Completed!

If you’ve visited the Providence Lower Campus in the last couple of weeks, you might have noticed an exciting new development in the Grove. Lo and behold, the Providence Engineering Academy has completed its children’s playground project—and just in time for the new year!


The completed project, in place at the Lower Campus Grove

For those who have been following along, you’ll notice that this project has moved through different stages through the year. Our original plan from the first day of school was to have the six Advanced Engineering I students design and build a children’s playground for the Grove. The students met with Mr. Knoles as the client, came up with a woodsy theme, wrote and received a grant from the local EnergyPartners Fund, learned about California safety standards, created a detailed CAD model, constructed a physical 1:16 model to put on display, and ran many structural calculations to inform their design. For more details of where we got to, check out this post from February.

After a couple of months, we realized that although the plans were solid, there were a lot more moving parts in the mix than could be resolved this year. Having already received our grant for materials and tools, and having a month of the school year still set aside for construction, we quickly changed tack. The students brainstormed along different lines: what could we design and build that would be small, fast, portable, safe, and a ton of fun?

Answer: the Wild West town!

In an amazing display of teamwork and ingenuity, the six students (Aaron, Tys, Sarah Jane, Kylie, Caleb, and senior Jake) quickly produced a set of plans to communicate the idea to our client and provide useful tools for estimating, purchasing, and construction.

Front view: restaurant, shop, house

The town would be built in two sections, each 12 feet long, about 5 feet high, and 4 feet deep. Six distinct rooms would be included: a restaurant, a general store, a residential home, a train station, a sheriff’s office, and a jail.

Perspective: train station, sheriff, jail (CAD model unfinished)

With approval from the Lower School, the students set to work. Bethany Bodenhamer, one of our industrious Lower School parents, negotiated with Home Depot and coordinated the deliveries of tools and lumber. Marty Robertson graciously allowed us the use of his miter saw for the entire duration of the construction. Peter Bohlinger also loaned many high quality tools used throughout the construction.

And so the work began! The backyard of the Upper Campus was converted to a scene of enthusiastic creativity. The six students, with their varying levels of experience, quickly grew in their confidence in measuring, cutting, and attaching the lumber—and always with safety eyewear, of course!


The play structure develops over the course of several weeks

When school let out in June, the students had made a terrific start on the structural framing, and some of the siding. Who knew that trigonometry had practical application?!

From left to right: Tys, Jake, Aaron, Kylie, and Caleb

In this image, the CAD model has been added as an overlay
to help visualize the final product

Clockwise from top: Aaron, Kylie, Sarah Jane, Tys, and Caleb
show off their craftsmanship

The restaurant nears completion (left); the framing for the railway
station, sheriff, and jail is practically complete

The reverse angle view in the backyard

Once summer came, others pitched in to help. Visiting alumnus and founding member of the Providence Engineering Academy Gabe Clark worked alongside Jake and Tys; Mr. Hurt brought his wife (great with child) and parents; Mr. Meadth’s son Asher even lent a hand!

Tys (in the window), Jake (middle) and Gabe helped secure the
roof and siding for the general store

Five Hurts across three generations! This family means business

Dad got them started, and Asher finished them off

A good deal of work was also done on adding finishing touches—it’s the little things that count!


A double-swinging door for the restaurant, just to give that classic
kickin’-in-the-door outlaw feel

A sink and counter adds the homely touch

Solid steel bars divide the sheriff from his catch of the day

The ticket counter for the railway station sports wrought-iron
decorative work

In case there was any mistaking which one was the sheriff’s office!

Finally, five strong friends of the school helped Mr. Meadth load the four separate pieces and transport them to the Lower Campus—one 500 lb piece at a time. After a bit of practice, the complete round trip was timed at 40 minutes! Of course, Ms. Svoboda was on hand to document the experience.


Ready—lift! Is that one of our new 7th Graders?

We certainly turned heads driving down State Street!

A place for everything and everything in its place!

A final word of thanks goes out to two parties. The EnergyPartners Fund generously provided what was necessary to go out and do this. They have been loyal supports of our program for several years now, and we are indebted to them. And naturally, well done to the six young engineers who envisioned this, designed it, and sweated it out. Mack Fixler at MOXI and his high-powered laser cutter have ensured that their place of honor will stand for time immemorial.

Thanks, EnergyPartners Fund!

Six strangely familiar villains, immortalized through the
magic of lamination and synchronized photons

Who knows what the coming year will bring? Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog, and we’ll let you know! And go explore the Wild West town next time you’re there; you won’t be disappointed.

Til next time!

Space Station Design: Engineers Bring CAD Expertise to Physics Class

In Mr. Hurt’s Physics class, freshmen and sophomore students are currently designing space stations. Pictured here are the printed CAD models of some of those space stations. Note the circular symmetry in each that allows rotational motion to simulate gravity.

Student work from left to right: Todd, Victor, Josh, Alec, Alena

In the past, this project was a mathematical exercise and a simple drawing. This year, thanks to the Engineering Academy, the students were able to go beyond simple drawings and numbers on a page. The Providence engineers took their group’s ideas and sketches and were able to make scale computer models that turned into the beautiful prints above!

Pictured here are three representations of the I.S.S. Dorothy, showing the printed CAD model, a stylized poster, and the station design and organization.

CAD by Alec Marchand
Alec’s printed version, from a CAD file
created in SketchUp
Representating by Katie Gerawan
The stylized representation,
with a cool retro theme!
Jenna Peterson and Eva Kilpper design and parameters
The technical details (click to enlarge)
Each group member was assigned an expertise within the group in one of the following areas:
  • Design & Appearance. Each group presents a detailed scale drawing model along with an artistic representation of their group’s space station.
  • Story. Consistent with the appearance, a short story is written to accompany the space station. This is a foray into science fiction, where both the science and the fiction are given attention.
  • Physical Parameters. After reading an article from NASA, design parameters are identified that would allow long term space travel. Each space station design has detailed calculations showing that the pseudo-gravity experienced on the space station is similar to gravity on Earth. 

By actually making physical models for these space stations, interesting questions arose that would not have otherwise come up. How do you find the volume of these shapes? How many people could live on these space stations?

Left to right: Isaiah, Todd (with Deadlock), Chloe

Pictured above is a group’s final class presentation, entitled “Deadlock.” Isaiah wrote a short story consistent with physics principles and went above and beyond to illustrate the story. Todd developed the CAD representation of the space station based on the parameters that their captain, Chloe, guided the group in developing.

Here is one group’s cover page for their short story about an exploratory vessel looking for colonizable planets.

An advertisement for Orisa, a fictitious colonizable planet,
by Bella


Mr. Hurt loved seeing his students bring art, math, physics, engineering, and teamwork together for this unique project.Thanks to the Providence Engineering Academy for helping bring designs to reality!

Robots and Steel

We had two exciting experiences recently in the high school Academy. Firstly, in the 9th/10th Grade Foundations of Engineering group, we decided to take a break from the rigours of trigonometry to see some robotics in action. Scott Gary, a Providence parent, brought in his Battle Bot–The Piecemaker!

The Piecemaker has competed in several events about fifteen years ago, including “Robot Wars” over in London. The robot enjoyed mixed success, going against such fearsome competitors as Bunny Attack, Hannibal, and Techno Trousers.

Scott pulls off the cover to show the internal workings of The Piecemaker;
Jakob and Samy have eyes on the flamethrower!

Alec and Colby watch as Scott describes the
internal wiring, which was actually less complex
than the robots we will be building next month

The Piecemaker is controlled by a regular remote-controlled aircraft setup, which sends signals to the powerful wheelchair motors at the wheels, and also to the metal cutting disc on the front. Scott showed us a worn-out disc from previous competitions; the fuzzy debris from other robots was still stuck on the blade!

Scott takes The Piecemaker outside to fully demonstrate its destructive capacities!

The students were allowed to operate the robot… be assured that the rotary cutting
disc was disconnected first!

Scott attempted to light the flamethrower, but the wind just wouldn’t cooperate…
too bad!
Low-res proof of former glory: The Piecemaker (middle right) goes head-to-head
with Bunny Attack (left)

This week, the members of the 11th/12th Grade group, Advanced Engineering, took a walking field trip to the nearby Santa Barbara Forge & Iron over on Gutierrez Street. The business is owned and operated by Dan and Andy Patterson, who are newly related by marriage to our own Mr Hurt. Sadly, two of our group of six were out sick, and they were missed!

Dan met us, and began by showing a few of the projects that he currently has on the boil, and how he uses Trimble SketchUp to plan his designs after taking the initial site measurements. Tys and Sarah Jane spent much time last year learning SketchUp, and Kylie and Caleb recently had their first exposure to the CAD program. It was gratifying to see the exact same software in action at a thriving Santa Barbara business just blocks away from the school.

Dan opened the tour by showing some SketchUp projects

Dan was also able to show us around the shop, which is filled wall to wall with fascinating industrial machinery. Workers busily hammered away at iron and steel, drawing it out into custom-made features destined for various local businesses and residences.

Tys, Sarah Jane, Kylie, and Caleb look on as Dan demonstrates the various
co-ordinate axes of the drill press/lathe

This particular piece is destined for a local museum, at which we hope our students
will soon have opportunities to volunteer… more on this later!

Sometimes you just gotta hammer away on
a good old-fashioned anvil

And sometimes you use a jet of energized plasma on a computer-controlled machine;
the students gratefully finished their tour with this huge piece of equipment

Many thanks to Dan and Andy and everyone at Santa Barbara Forge & Iron for their warm reception of our students. Their creative passion, combined with hands-on skills and applied mathematics, are an inspiring example for us. Thanks again also to Scott for bringing in The Piecemaker.

Stay tuned for more projects and field trips and guest speakers! The year is just getting started.

Advanced Engineering: Community Design Project

We’re in the fourth week of school now, so it’s a great time to unveil our Big Idea for the 2016-2017 school year. The Advanced Engineering group, comprising Tys, Aaron, Sarah Jane, Kylie, Jake, and Caleb, have been given a momentous task to accomplish.

From left: Jake, Caleb, Aaron, Tys, Mr Meadth, Kylie, Sarah Jane,
and a Pacific Gray Whale

Drum roll, please…

They will be working on a year-long project to design and construct a play structure for the Providence Lower Campus!

Most of these students already learned to do CAD last year, creating models of orphanages, Mars habitats, and small houses. This was all done from a purely “design” perspective, focused on aesthetics and interest alone.

Sarah Jane and Jake showing their CAD model for an African orphanage last year

By contrast, the point of this year’s work is to understand structural engineering: materials science (just when will that piece of timber break?), loads and stresses (how much tensile stress is that chain carrying?), column behaviour (when will a long thin supporting column buckle?), and so much more.

So, after making a design that is interesting and aesthetically pleasing and fits its environment, the students will bring their new skills to bear on their structure, which will enable them to select material types, choose thicknesses, add triangular structures, etc. This will be far more math-and-physics based than last year’s work.

But for now it’s all fun and games. We’ve been researching nearby playgrounds…

…appreciating local artwork…

…performing structural tests on candidate materials…

…speaking on location with the all-important client, Mr. Knoles…

…getting inspiration…

…critiquing ideas…

…and getting it all down on paper.

This week also marks the submission of a grant to a local nonprofit to help fund this project. The students wrote this grant themselves, and will be waiting hopefully for the response. Stay posted for more updates on this exciting work!

(photos by Rodney Meadth and Tys vanZeyl)