STEM-savvy seniors build their own go-kart

Will & Louis ’15 tackle challenging independent project

When it came time for aspiring engineers Will and Louis ’15 to select their Independent Senior Project (ISP), one idea truly revved their engines: building their own go-kart from scratch.

“We will both be studying engineering at the University of Virginia in the fall and both want to be engineers, so building a go-kart seemed like the perfect senior project,” Will said. “We have loved studying STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] in school, and figured this would give us the opportunity to apply that learning to make something.”

Landon’s ISP program allows seniors to conceive of and execute a unique project of their choosing. The students are paired with faculty/staff sponsors to provide them with advice and support when necessary. At the end, the seniors hand in a portfolio that documents the project, and they deliver an oral presentation that explains what they learned.

Will and Louis learned the importance of the core Landon values of teamwork and perseverance. After they ordered the go-kart parts, the duo set out to fit the pieces of their automotive puzzle together. What they discovered, very quickly, was that their task would not be a simple one.

“Everything we have done on this project has gone wrong — the alignment was off, the brakes didn’t work, we sheered one of the bolts in half while mounting the engine,” Louis said. “But we stuck with it through the problems and through countless runs to Strosniders Hardware. We learned to be patient, think clearly, work as a team, and try to solve the issue. And in every single case, we overcame the problem.” Indeed, the boys had their first successful go-kart run May 29 (watch the video below).

“We also learned the importance of discarding an idea when it isn’t panning out... and knowing when to ask for help from people who know what they are doing,” Will added.

Those people included members of the Building and Grounds staff, who helped Will and Louis blowtorch the metal frame so it would fit together properly, and the boys’ teachers.

Mr. [Larry] Fullerton has been our advisor and a great resource for us,” Louis said. “And so many of our math and science teachers who have encouraged us to pursue the engineering path — Mr. [Robert Moore], Ms. [Sacha] Place, Mrs. [Beverly] Sivaslian, Mr. [David] Wray — stopped in to check on the go-kart and offer their feedback and advice.”

Despite bumps along the road, at project’s end Louis and Will are more galvanized than ever in their love for engineering. “My parents told me, ‘Do something you love when you do your job, and you’ll be successful,’” Louis said. “For me, that is engineering.”

For Will, the project brings him one step closer to his dream job. “The ultimate goal is to be Iron Man,” he deadpanned. “As close as I can get to that.”