Competing to Learn

Light bulbs filled with gears inside of two heads that are drawn with what resembles wires connecting to the light bulbs

Many of the advantages of attending Forsyth Tech are well-understood—affordable tuition, small class sizes, program variety, and flexible class schedules that accommodate students with family and job responsibilities. Another often overlooked plus involves the quality of the Forsyth Tech faculty. Students gain real-world perspectives from their instructors who have practical work experience and subject and industry expertise. Instructors often bring another academic edge to the college: a keen understanding of the educational value of competitions that test students’ skills and knowledge and offer them life and educational experiences that can take them in new directions.

Two Forsyth Tech students, Kameron Dozier, an Architecture student, and Edward Cruz-Ortiz, a Nanotechnology student, recently received top honors in competitions related to their respective fields of study. They wasted no time in leveraging these wins to their advantage.

LEEDing by Example

Last year, Kameron was part of a team of Architecture and Interior Design students who won first place in the 2016 Natural Talent Design Competition hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council NC. The competition, which took place in Raleigh, attracted students from both two- and four-year colleges.  Another Forsyth Tech team took second place, the fifth year in a row Forsyth Tech teams have taken the top spots in this competition.

Last year’s project focused on the design of a new Charter High School (through a partnership with Kaleidoscope High School) on 8½ acres in Wake County, which included 39,000 square feet of interior instructional spaces and 10,000 square feet of exterior spaces. Teams developed a sustainable approach to site development, including parking for 350 cars, student drop-off areas, exterior green spaces as well as the architecture and design of a new facility guided by trends in K-12 education, the LEED rating system, and the principles of the Living Building Challenge.

“Kameron and his team as well as our other team worked extremely hard on this project,” says Mack Todd Shoaf, Architecture program coordinator. “The Natural Talent Design Competition projects always challenge our students with real-world scenarios that let them apply their skills in a way that gives them hands-on work experience before they graduate and a great work sample to include in their student portfolios.”

As a member of the winning Forsyth Tech team, Kameron received a scholarship in October to attend the Greenbuild 2016 International Conference and Expo in Los Angeles, CA, the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building and design. While there, Kameron attended educational sessions, visited with exhibitors who featured the latest in innovative products and services, and networked with sustainability and green building professionals. He even received an internship offer, which he reluctantly had to turn down in order to complete his studies at Forsyth Tech.

Upon his return from Los Angeles, Kameron was invited as an emerging professional to co-present along with a local seasoned architect highlights from Greenbuild 2016 at the USGBC Piedmont Triad Branch’s monthly meeting.

During the presentation, Kameron talked about the many things he learned, including new research that shows people function better in green environments. He was also fascinated by the increasing popularity of biophilia, the practice of designing buildings that connect people with nature.

Kameron DozierPerhaps among his greatest learnings, though, were personal.

“When I went out to LA, this was the first time on my own and only the second time I flew on a plane,” says Kameron. “I had to grow up pretty quickly, but I figured it all out.”

And that’s not all Kameron has figured out. Already, he has earned an entry-level industry certification, the LEED® Green Associate®. In December, he graduated from Forsyth Tech with his AA in Architecture. In January, he will begin working full-time for a local architect for whom he has been working part-time while in school. And this fall, he looks forward to transferring to a four-year university to complete his BA and MA as he works towards becoming a licensed architect.

Small Matters Make a Big Difference

Edward Cruz-Ortiz has found his passion at Forsyth Tech studying nanotechnology, a branch of technology that studies nanoparticles on atomic, molecular and supramolecular scales. In fact, nanoparticles are up to 100,000 times thinner than a human hair. In this tiny, seemingly invisible universe, is where Edward has discovered a whole new world.

In late 2015, a nanotechnology instructor encouraged Edward and a few of his classmates to consider entering one of their projects in the Community College Innovation Challenge, a competition sponsored by the National Science Foundation in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges. The Challenge is a federally funded program that encourages students to develop skills for innovation and entrepreneurship.

The 2016 Challenge required participants to seek new ways to help the world deal with growing resource demands by identifying ways to improve natural resource sustainability.

Edward and his team, which included Shannon Coalson, Adam Afifi, Jack Landgraf and Philip York, proposed an innovative solution to modernizing today’s greenhouses to fit individual customer needs by incorporating the use of renewable, cost-efficient energy sources through the use of nanotechnology.

The students determined that the two types of greenhouses currently on the market—a permanent glass structure and a more temporary plastic structure—can cost farmers thousands of dollars a month in energy bills as a result, for example, of running fans around the clock to maintain humidity and exposing plants and fruit to 12 hours of light per day. The team proposal addressed the creation of electricity out of the plastic that covers greenhouses.

Last spring, Edward and his team learned they had been selected as one of the top 10 finalists in the competition. In June, all finalist teams attended a rigorous four-day innovation “boot camp” in Arlington, VA during which they received feedback on their presentation. They also had the honor of presenting findings to members of Congress and the legislative staff at the U.S. Capitol. They also received the honor of learning that a panel of expert judges selected their project as first place winner.

“This national distinction placed a tremendous shining star on our nanotech students’ résumés,” said Michael Ayers, dean of Math, Science, & Technologies. “It validates the type of innovative programming that Forsyth Tech offers, which few other colleges across the country can match.

“This experience places our students on the bleeding edge of STEM education by encouraging research and innovation that is usually associated with four-year universities.”

This past fall Edward was selected by the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce to participate in the Chamber’s annual Tech Briefing, an event that features the innovative technologies, designs, and products being developed in Winston-Salem. Edward addressed the crowd of nearly 200 about the highly sophisticated learning taking place in the college’s nanotechnology program, which resulted in his team’s national win.

Edward Cruz-Ortiz“I am so excited by the field of nanotechnology—it has opened up for me a world of possibilities,” Edward says. “In fact, my teammates and I are exploring the possibility of going into business together. The applications of nanotechnology are endless, and our entrepreneurial spirits are energized by what the future holds.

“I have made so many important professional connections over the past year, as have my classmates, and we want to leverage these relationships to create our own career paths. I am also looking forward to transferring to a four-year school to continue my education.”

Clearly, Edward has big plans for his place in the tiny world of nanotechnology.