(SAE: Warrendale, PA) -- Celebrating 20 years of its A World in Motion program this year gave the SAE Foundation cause to pause and ask, “What impact have our programs truly had on students, and where are some of those students today?”
Meet Wes Turechek. Turechek was always interested in math and science as a kid and would scour garage sales around his neighborhood looking for things to take apart and put back together. When asked if he remembered participating in SAE International’s A World in Motion program in elementary school, Turechek quickly responds, “That’s the thing I remember most about the fifth grade—building the JetToy.” What a memory to have of your fifth grade experience after more than 15 years.
Turechek immediately remembered building the body of the balloon-powered car with a half of a milk carton, and finding the biggest balloon possible. “It was always the most fun when I got to build something that worked,” says Turechek. “I really didn’t care about what it did as long as I could build it.” SAE International’s earlier version of the JetToy was actually called the Option Derby, and teacher Sharon Stevenson called it the “Balloon Car Builder” in her class when Turechek participated.
Later in the seventh grade, Turechek had the opportunity to build the Motorized Toy Car. He was really impressed with that activity because he had to build it, and it had to travel uphill. “That is the first time I understood what it meant to be an engineer,” he says. “Looking back on what we had to do, it truly was my first engineering experience because of the performance criteria requirements. We had to test the product and compromise until the product was right.”
It was in high school, though, that Turechek realized he actually wanted to be an engineer. In addition to taking an AutoCAD class, Turechek took a small-engine repair class, and his career path became clear.
While in the concrete lab in his junior year at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, he noticed the Formula SAE team working on their car. It wasn’t until his senior year, however, that he got involved. Although he didn’t become a member of the team due to scheduling conflicts, he helped with the analysis of the vehicle’s frame to ensure the integrity of the car’s structure.
Today, Turechek is 28 and a structural engineer for Stanley Consultants in Denver. He specializes in power-plant retrofits and campus utility projects, and hopes more kids follow in his footsteps. “It is important to reach kids in fifth or sixth grade to help them stay interested in science and math through high school and college,” says Turechek. “Even today, there are few hands-on engineering ‘classes’ for students in middle school, so I’m glad my teacher brought the A World in Motion program to my class.”
SAE is grateful, too, for dedicated teachers like Sharon Stevenson, Turechek’s fifth-grade teacher from Caroline Bentley School in Lenox, Illinois. She has been introducing students in her classrooms to A World in Motion almost since the program began two decades ago. It is the enthusiasm and dedication of teachers like Stevenson that give students the opportunity to engage in the wonders of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), discover their own potential, and have a future full of opportunity and success.