Physics, Freshmen, Furniture… and a Grant Win!

There hasn’t been a lot of action on this blog site so far this school year—but not because there aren’t things worth writing home about! As you can imagine, I (Mr. Meadth) have been much busier on the ground each day with cleaning and supervision, let alone teaching the engineering class.

But some things are worth documenting and celebrating. So let’s jump in!

1. Four New Freshmen

We took four new engineering students into the freshman class. A big welcome to Hunter, Abby, Teleios, and Eliana. These junior engineers are hitting the ground running, despite all the challenges. They are learning trigonometry before their time, taking baby steps into the world of computer-aided design (CAD), and just generally being awesome. Welcome, freshmen!

Hunter, Teleios, and Abby (Eliana couldn’t make this
photo, but she’s just as much a part of this group!)

2. College-Level Statics… From a Textbook

Despite my propensity to always design my own curriculum from the ground up, I tried something new this year: a textbook! It turns out this was the perfect year in which to do this, as it matched well to the statics studies that we’ve always done anyway. Don’t be led astray by the name—Statics for Dummies—the lighthearted tone helps high schoolers get through those pesky equations. For those engineering parents out there, you’ll find all of the fun you can handle in vector calculations, force couples, and free-body diagrams.

3. Independent Mode

This is a grand experiment, and one that we committed to from the start of the year. Can we commit to a full year of engineering studies in independent mode? Some would say that it’s never been tried, but this is the year to come up with new solutions! Despite the absence of stimulating classroom discussions, this has allowed students to take seven classes plus engineering, and it allows students to watch at their own pace. Students have watched 18 videos so far this year, and responded with written assignments and discussion boards. They are now eagerly discussing their community design project in a shared Google Doc, which brings us to Number 4…

Acceleration sums in three dimension, anyone?

If you can’t find the centroid of a composite area,
you just can’t call yourself an engineer

4. Community Design Project

I’m so happy with how this project is rolling forward! We have two “clients”, Mrs. Christa Jones on the San Roque campus and Mr. Gil Addison at PathPoint, who works with residents in wheelchairs. Our student teams are busily designing an adjustable standing desk for Mrs. Jones and an adjustable computer desk for Mr. Addison. Both of these designs are required to involve electrical/mechanical aspects, such as motorized lifts or built-in LED lighting. Once the student teams finalize their designs, complete with drawings and CAD models, I (Mr. Meadth) will be building their designs myself—in the interest of staying as contact-less as possible.

5. Lots of Publicity

We’ve received a surprising amount of national-level publicity lately. Our students use the CAD platform Onshape, and Onshape reached out to us to record a video and write a blog article. The video has been up for a over a month now, and the blog article will be published soon. Our Academy was also mentioned in another national publication by the American Institute of Aviation and Aeronautics (AIAA), Aerospace America, because we won a $500 grant to help build our remote-controlled aircraft.

6. Major Grant Win

Is it just me that believes in our outstanding Providence engineering program? Is it just the university lecturers who receive our already-highly-trained students? Am I just blowing my own horn over here? Apparently not! The Toshiba America Foundation decided that our second-semester robotics project was something worth funding, and we are pleased to announce that over $4,000 of the very latest in classroom robotics equipment will soon be arriving on campus. This will be put to use in our Mars Rover project, where different student teams will design, build, and code different components of one big vehicle. I’m looking forward to this one. Thanks, Toshiba!

One of the advanced Vex V5 sets: coming soon!

As always, stay posted for more exciting announcements. Our junior engineers are doing something very different, but making the most of it. I’m confident that their skills and experience will remain at the very highest level amongst similar programs in our area. Keep it up, students!

–Mr. Meadth

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.”

A Tour of JPL


(This is the eighth in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. Pedro in 11th grade reflects on his experience at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena on our class field trip earlier this year.)


“The trip was really inspiring way above expectations. I enjoyed the chance to see where they work, and the 2020 rover was a memory I will never forget.”

“It really re-awoke the third grade Nolan in me. The rover around Saturn replica was cool to see, it was a great experience, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to go.”

These are the words Josh and Nolan stated about our class trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). JPL was a fun and interesting experience, and in our tour we got to learn and see things that we’ve never seen before.

First off, we saw a video that was amazing to watch. This video showed us the gigantic size of the whole universe and taught us that most of it hasn’t been explored. It also showed some satellites and spacecraft that were launched into space, and we were able to look at smaller scaled models of these around the room.

Our host shows the various scale models of historical space probes

Next, we got to see the control room, which was full of screens and numbers. This is the room where they gather information from every spacecraft, rover, and satellite. It is also the place from which they controlled the landing of the Mars rover, Curiosity, in 2012—which we learned was a really terrifying seven minutes for these hard workers! 

The control center, from which every robotic space mission
has been monitored
Then, we got to see photos from one of the rovers on Mars. These photos had been taken just hours earlier and we got to see them on a screen!

After that, we got to see the construction of the 2020 Mars rover. Amazing! We learned that anyone that is eighteen or under can get their name applied on the 2020 rover.

The rover being constructed inside a “clean room”
Our final stop was the gift shop, which sold “space” ice cream, sweaters, and some cool toys for your kids. Overall, JPL was a fun and really cool experience for all of us.

Private vs. Government Space Programs

(This is the seventh in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. In this article, 12th-grade student Todd shares why privately-funded organizations may be a better choice for space exploration.)

Space travel. It’s been around since 1961 when the Soviets launched Yuri Gagarin into space. But who has been sending people into space here in the United States? For the longest time, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) were the sole authorities on spaceflight. That all changed when SpaceX, the first private space agency in the United States, was founded by Elon Musk in 2002. Since then, there have been 76 launches by SpaceX, and 26 launches by NASA.

But what is the difference between these two agencies? NASA is a public, government-owned organization and SpaceX is a private company that has not yet launched an IPO. So which organization takes a better approach?

Although NASA has a bigger history in the space travel industry, the real facts lie in the fundamentally different ways the two organizations are run. NASA is entirely funded by the government, so it gets its money from taxes and loans the government takes out. SpaceX is completely private, so its only money comes from its own profits and money from investors.

In my opinion, privately funded space organizations are the way to go because of the way they are funded. At the time of this writing, the United States national debt is around $22.8 trillion, and we have spent around $601 billion dollars on NASA so far. This money should be spent on other things such as working on shrinking the national deficit.

On the other hand, SpaceX has not gone public yet, so we do not know their current revenue and value. Though we do not know the numbers yet, we can say for sure that SpaceX does not contribute to the national debt, which is a very good thing.

One additional factor that sets the two groups apart is the ability to reuse rockets. SpaceX’s flagship rockets are the Falcon Heavys. The company boasts the ability to reuse its rockets after they have been recovered. This is a smart, cost-saving strategy that further proves that space travel should be privatized.

Regardless of the organization, one thing is for sure: space travel is here to stay, and the opportunities are ripe like never before.

Space: The Final Frontier

(This is the second in a series of blog articles written by the Providence Engineering Academy students. In the light of our recent trip to Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Ben in 12th Grade describes some of the history and future of space exploration.)

The concept of space travel has captured the public eye since the late 1800s with science fiction. As humans learned to blow things up in a certain direction more effectively, what was once science fiction became science speculation and from there we continued in our search for what lies beyond.

The entire group poses inside the famous JPL facility
On September 25, 2019, the Providence Engineering Academy was given the opportunity to take a glimpse into our country’s efforts to see just what else God has created in our universe at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. We humans, as stewards of creation, have a special role in discovery and advancement of our world, and this stewardship is taken seriously at JPL. They have produced deep space telescopes, orbital telescopes, weather telescopes, rovers, etc. for this exact purpose.
Our host stands next to the life-size (non-functional!) sister of
the currently active Mars rover, Curiosity
Mankind continues our search for life on other worlds as JPL designs their next Mars rover, set for launch in 2020. This rover is designed to search the soil of Mars for any signs of life. As an engineering student, I am greatly inspired by the efforts that we as stewards make to find out more about our neighboring planets. Scientists are also hoping to research the seas of Europa, one of the largest moons of Jupiter, to see if there is any life below the outer icy shell. Since there are large bodies of water on Europa, many scientists wonder if creatures live there, just as there is sea life on earth.
Our host shares the incredible history of space exploration from
this site, with a scale model of the Cassini probe in the background
Meanwhile, deep-space telescopes have been expanding the radius of what we know. There are upcoming missions for my generation to develop, based on all of the ground-breaking work done by the gifted scientists at JPL and other locations. One such mission is to develop a telescope to photograph other solar systems so that we can see if there are similar planets to Earth in those systems.
We deeply appreciated the enthusiasm and brilliance on display at JPL, and we wait with anticipation for what the future might hold—perhaps we’ll be a part of it!

Summer Camp 2018

It was such a roaring success the first time that we just had to do it all over again! The second annual Providence Engineering Summer Camp finished today, and the brightly lit robot city took wings with our special theme: SPACE. We all know it’s the final frontier, and our fifteen campers interpreted this idea in a multitude of ways. Alien invasion… meteorite shower… rocket launch… solar system buildings… 3D printed rockets and planets… so much fun!

Todd helps his team with some simple geometric designs

High school engineering students Joshua, Todd, Alena, and Sam led the charge each day teams of devoted campers from Providence and the broader community. We also had a good deal of help from Isabela! These excellent engineers taught the campers how to build electronic circuits, program robots, 3D print fantastic creations, and design out-of-this-world architecture. Illuminated buildings towered high above the cityscape as tiny robots darted to and fro. Electrified copper rails ran this way and that carrying power to critical components, with printed sculptures dotting the landscape.

Success! A single 3 V coin battery powers nine blue LEDs…
or is it only eight?
There was no messing around, either—these elementary students learned their stuff! You can ask them what “LED” stands for, and what a “forever loop” might be used for. They know how to build a working switch out of paper and copper foil, and some of them even used their movie-making skills to record short action videos!
The Robot City landscape continues to become
increasingly illuminated
As the days went by, the creations became increasingly complex. First was the skyscraper that was literally taller than Mr. Meadth. Then came the red/orange/green traffic light by the illuminated airstrip. 3D printed costumes were designed (by the campers, of course) for the tiny Ozobots in the shape of cars, rockets, and trains. And—of course—there was the obligatory fiesta of robot dance parties, all happening in perfect synchronization.
A delightful blue flower stands bold and tall
The end of each day came all too quickly. With lots to take home, we hope these happy campers will continue to code, invent architecture, and design circuits all summer long! Enjoy the rest of the photos, and we hope to have as many of you as possible back next year!
The 3D CAD model (computer aided design), becomes—by magic!—
a brightly lit reality
A tall rocket stands beside a crashed alien spacecraft
Our campers working hard to create all manner of new buildings
The tallest skyscraper in the room, complete with embedded
meteorites and emergency beacons
The Copper Rocket throws an eerie light out onto the empty streets

The giant completed city!

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!

Scott Kelly at the Granada

Some of our readers might be aware of the historic experience of Captain Scott Kelly, the American astronaut who spent approximately a year on the International Space Station. Captain Kelly carried out over 400 scientific experiments in his time in orbit, did several spacewalks, and took hundreds of incredible photos. Since his return, he has toured round to various locations and shared about his experiences.

Providence has three Scotts of its own, and one of them–Dr. Scott Lisea–reached out to the Engineering Academy to invite some of the top students to attend one of Captain Kelly’s presentations at the Granada. Jake and Kylie accepted the invitation with pleasure, and Mr. Meadth came along as well.

Captain Kelly was good enough to pose with Kylie and Jake
for a quick photo after the event

Scott Kelly was warm, engaging, and full of good humor. He described how he lacked motivation and discipline during his elementary and secondary schooling, and that his outlook changed when he read the stories of earlier NASA astronauts. He encouraged the audience to do what any good astronaut does: ignore the things they can’t change, and focus on what they can. He described the physical and psychological challenges of living in an isolated structure for so long, and how he gained a strong friendship with his Russian cosmonaut partners.

Thanks again to Dr. Lisea for providing this special opportunity for our students, and thanks to Captain Kelly for setting a strong example of leadership and persistence.

Guest Speaker: Nathan Gates

Last Friday, our Foundations of Engineering II group was privileged to hear from retired aerospace engineer Dr. Nathan Gates. Dr. Gates has worked for many years at Astro Aerospace, based in Carpinteria, and is recently retired.

Dr Gates shows a telescoping boom design that he worked on

Dr. Gates’ impressive career was mainly focused on thin, light, graphite structures, such as those used on spacecraft and satellites. His specialty was “deployable” structures, which are launched in a folded-up configuration and then unpackage once in orbit. One recent project will unfold over two weeks to the size of a tennis court, despite being launched in a payload cylinder only a few meters wide.

Students eagerly listening to tales of projects past!

Dr. Gates ended his stories with a memorable reference to Eric Liddell, the Scottish Olympic athlete, who famously stated “when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Dr. Gates has worked for years in the aerospace industry to the best of his ability, designing and creating in imitation of the Great Creator, feeling His pleasure, and living Coram Deo—before the face of God. Our students would do well to take heed.

We are very grateful to Dr. Nathan Gates for sharing with us, and hope to have him again soon!

Midde School Final Challenge Complete!

After weeks of hard work designing, building, and programming a Mars rover, four middle school teams headed out to the gym to put it all to the test. These robots were created entirely from scratch–no instructions, no plans, just the student teams and their own wits! The goal was to create a remote-controlled robot that could collect four 3D printed “Mars rocks” as quickly as possible, using whatever means necessary.

Team 1 (Sam, Cole, Nik, and Pedro) went for an asymmetrical design, driven by two strong rubber wheels in the back. An arm with a claw lowered down on one side to scoop up the rocks, bringing them up and over to drop into a large hopper, with more than enough capacity for all four rocks.

Team 1 presents their design to the class

Team 3 (Conner, Brennan, Isaac, and Tessa) decided to maximize speed and agility above all else. They gave their robot a very simple platform on the front, with a swinging arm to contain a single rock at a time. This meant that they would have to exit and re-enter the circle each time to extract their rocks.

Team 3 shows their simple but fast design

Team 4 (David, Samy, and Belen) went for a longer model with more than enough internal capacity for four rocks. Completely unique to the competition, they designed a “paddle wheel” on the front to sweep the rocks right into the belly of the robot. This all made for more difficult turning, but an efficient collection method.

Team 4 shows the longest design in the competition

Lastly, Team 26 (Todd, Ashlynne, and Deacon) designed a big, bulky robot with both caterpillar tracks and rubber wheels. Team 26 was the only team to employ two computers onboard, to account for their large number of motors. A robot arm reached over the front of the robot to close onto the rocks, before lifting them up into the hopper behind.

Team 26 shows the class their hybrid machine

After a day of presenting and time trials, the students played it out in the gym, with parents and fellow students cheering on. Each team scored at least one victory against someone else, although by the end of the first day, it was clear that Team 3 had an obvious speed advantage. With each round of play, they perfected their technique to get faster and faster!

Mr. Meadth and the crowd look on as Team 26 positions for another run;
Team 4 paddles its way forward unhindered

Brennan and Conner from Team 3 close in on another rock; Todd and Deacon
from Team 26 try to co-ordinate their efforts

Samy from Team 4 takes a turn at the controls while David
and Belen look on

On the second day of competition, the students knew it was time for the eliminations. Team 26 and Team 4 had given the shakiest performances up to this point, although both had won a victory against each other. Fighting for the best of three saw a victory in 1:03 for Team 4, then a victory in 1:15 for Team 26. With scores tied, Team 4 pushed through in their fastest performance yet, with an astounding 0:54. Team 26 eliminated!

Samy, holding three, anxiously waits for the fourth rock to
be collected by David
Ashlynne, having positioned Team 26’s robot, looks on as Deacon steers it
toward the goal

In the next elimination round, the bulkier Team 1 faced off against the more agile Team 3. In a quick series of best of three, Team 3 established dominance, putting their fastest time on the board of four rocks in 0:30. Team 1 put in a valiant effort, but could not keep up and was eliminated.

Team 1 scoops up their second rock in the elimination round
Conner from Team 3 positions the robot as Brennan gets ready to make a run for
the pink rock

The very long Team 4 and the very quick Team 3 went through to the final round, for another best of three. Tensions were high, and Team 4 started off strong. Team 3 went straight into their typical repertoire: run in, grab, get out, repeat. Like a well-oiled machine, Team 3 took home a victory in 0:50. In the second of three, Team 4 came close to victory, but Team 3 once again won with 1:12–notabley, not as fast as Team 4’s best time. However, a third round showed that, without a doubt, Team 3 deserved the grand prize!

Team 4 (left) and Team 3 fly into action in the final round
Already holding two, Team 4 (left) narrowly misses their next red rock, while
Team 3 closes in on the teal one

The winning students were awarded with gift cards and one of the rocks they had fought so hard to collect. Smiles all round, and we’ll see what the Final Challenge had to hold in store next year!

Mr. Meadth congratulates Tessa, Conner, Brennan, and Isaac for a job well done
All the students with their robots at the end of the tournament