Mechanical Engineering Senior Recognized as May 2023 Outstanding Student
May 11, 2023
By Holly Hinson
When Senior Mechanical Engineering student Hunter West was visiting colleges, he felt at home on the Speed School campus immediately. “I come from a small town in Eastern Kentucky and touring campus it felt like a small school and a tight-knit community,” he said. “That was something really important to me.
“With the small class sizes, it’s pretty easy to get to know almost everybody, and it’s really nice to be able to establish a rapport with so many people, whether it’s your peers or faculty,” said West, who was just named as the May 2023 Outstanding Student and Banner Bearer.
Drawn to engineering because he always enjoyed using math and science skills to identify problems and find the optimal solution, West said he was specifically attracted to mechanical engineering because of the broad diversity of applications available within the discipline. “The variety of opportunities for mechanical really appealed to me,” he said.
After graduation, West plans to continue at Speed to pursue his masters in mechanical engineering, focusing his research on fluid mechanics. “I’ve always been driven to take as many different opportunities to learn as I can because it’s something that excites me, learning something new,” he said. “Research is a step beyond learning material other people are teaching you,” said West. “It’s assisting in the process of generating new knowledge that can be applied for people to learn new things.”
For his senior capstone project, which won first place in the mechanical engineering division at the Engineering and Design Showcase on April 20, West worked with a team of students working to expedite the aging process of bourbon in a barrel. “The basis for this project was to come up with a way to age bourbon faster than it does in the natural industry process,” he said. “Bourbon ages naturally in barrels because of the daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations wherever barrels are stored,” he explained. “Those fluctuations cause the wood and steel in the barrel to flex and allow the bourbon to infiltrate the wood and get forced back out. Our goal was to emulate that process but do it at a higher frequency to where theoretically you could get multiple days’ worth of aging in a single day,” said West.
For West, it was interesting to approach a project that didn’t have a defined angle of attack. “We started out doing various calculations related to heat transfer principles or mechanics of materials to see exactly what would it take to get this barrel to be manipulated. The wood of the staves or the steel of the hoops, they’re going to behave a certain way if we subjected them to certain conditions,” he said.
The capstone team then applied theoretical calculations as well as various simulations using 3D modeling software. “We were able to apply the knowledge we gained from that exploratory process to identify commercially available products that can achieve the end goal that we were seeking, and then ultimately put a product together that verified the theories that we had postulated,” said West. “It’s a rewarding process to take a problem, identify how we might be able to solve it, come up with the solution, and then show data that demonstrates that we have, at the very least, gotten close to the to the solution that we were looking for.”
Currently, West’s research is in conductive nanofiber mats that can be used to filter really small particles out of solutions. “An example of a real world application might be if you were studying cancer and were interested in a solution of blood cells, the dead blood cells would be attracted by different electric fields, so you could theoretically repel all the healthy blood cells and trap all the dead ones,” explained West.
For West, the foundation that was laid to carve out his career path started with the valuable hands-on experience he got through the Speed School’s co-op program. He completed all three co-op rotations with local company CMTA Energy Solutions, a company that assesses and analyzes the utility usage at school or other government owned buildings to seek opportunities for greater energy efficiencies and cost savings.
“I feel like every single person I worked with was willing to help me learn, and wanted me to succeed, and it was valuable having so many mentors in one place,” said West. The banner bearer also said he could support the work the company was doing to impact the community in a positive way. “If you’re not spending money on utilities, maybe you can buy more textbooks or supplies, so that money can go back into improving educational outcomes,” he said. “That was something that really resonated with me, and it’s work that I’m really proud to have been a part of.”
The co-op experience also gives you exposure to a professional work environment where you learn how to communicate with diverse audiences and sharpen organizational skills, said West.
“The way that projects run smoothly is if everybody from all levels of the company on all parts of a project are in lockstep,” he said. “Being able to build those skills is something that I’ll be able to apply to everything that I do from here on out.”
For students out there who might be interested in engineering school, West has some advice. “The rumors you hear about engineering school are not unfounded; it’s challenging, but what is special about UofL and Speed School is the quantity of resources that you have at your disposal,” he said. “There are no shortage of opportunities to get help and be assisted in finding whatever form of success that you’re looking for at Speed School. You definitely do not have to come at it alone.”
How does he feel to be named Outstanding Student and Banner Bearer for the upcoming commencement ceremony?
“It was humbling to get that notification,” said West. “It means a lot to see that the work that I put in, inside and outside of classes, is being recognized. The longer I thought about it, the more touching it feels, and it’s not something I take lightly,” he said. “It’s something I am grateful for and proud of.”