By Kel Hahn
In the University of Kentucky College of Engineering, sometimes the most formative educational experiences happen outside the classroom. While few would argue against the assertion that informative classroom instruction coupled with rigorous study is the foundation of a solid engineering education, extracurricular activities often reinforce course material and spur new avenues for investigation. Senior electrical engineering major Joshua Morgan is a prime example of the college’s double-pronged approach to producing top-notch engineers.
“Joshua is a highly motivated student, gifted in academic and leadership skills,” says Kevin Donohue, DataBeam Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “It is a delight to see students propose experiments driven solely by personal curiosity and involve themselves in engineering experiences outside the classroom.”
Joshua has held a spot on the Solar Car Team since freshman orientation. Having never heard of such a thing as a solar-powered car before beginning college, Joshua was fascinated with the concept as well as the way the team designed and built different facets of the car. He joined the electrical team and increasingly assumed leadership responsibilities as each new academic year triggered team turnover. For 2015-2016, Joshua will be team manager—the top spot on the team. He says the learning experience will pay dividends long after graduation.
“Working on the car provides situations where we face totally unique problems, like building a circuit board for our battery pack on our solar car. We can’t just look that up on YouTube because no one else has our exact equipment. Plus, because our team members come from all engineering majors, we get the experience of working collaboratively on a real engineering team.”
Throughout his tenure on the Solar Car Team, Joshua has been part of a multi-year effort to build Gato del Sol V, the team’s newest iteration to take the field in national competitions. Gato V made its racing debut in 2014 at the American Solar Challenge in Austin, Texas.
“We actually finished building the car in Austin,” Joshua says with a grin. “We only got about 6-7 laps in and didn’t qualify for the road race.”
In July, the team returned to Austin to compete in the Formula Sun Grand Prix. The year spent fine-tuning the car paid off: Gato V completed 84 laps and achieved the fastest measured speed on the track. Confidence is high as the team looks to the 2016 American Solar Challenge and the chance to participate in the multi-state road race for the first time since 2010.
“One of the cool things about the race is that it makes people think about the future of solar cars. I think we will see more solar cells on vehicles, as well as ways for people to charge them through solar panels on their houses,” says Joshua.
The son of an electrical engineer, Joshua was personally taught how to build circuits at a young age. Joshua says that because he was homeschooled, he often had extra time for diving into what interested him.
“Homeschooling allowed me to spend a lot of time concentrating on electronics as well as music. I could build circuits for a while and then practice piano and violin for two hours and still finish my school day by four o’clock.”
Still, some worried that homeschooling would leave him unprepared for the difficulty of college coursework. A Singletary Scholar and recipient of a Buick Achiever Scholarship, Joshua has had no problems making the grade. As a University Scholar, he will graduate in December 2016 with not only his bachelor’s degree, but also a master’s degree in electrical engineering. Further, he has already fulfilled two internships with medical device and surgical instrument manufacturer Ethicon Endo-Surgery in Cincinnati. Joshua says he discovered the company at a campus Career Fair.
“I was leaving the fair when I happened to see a cool-looking device on a company’s table. I was curious and went over to talk with them and when I asked about internships, they weren’t so sure since I was an electrical engineering major. But after telling them about my experience on the Solar Car Team and how I regularly work across disciplines, they found a good fit and I have really enjoyed it.”
Unwilling to decisively settle upon a post-graduation career route, Joshua sees all options as possibilities. While he thinks a job as an industrial researcher would be a good start, he also entertains getting his doctorate one day and becoming a professor. The allure of forming a startup company with some of his friends also appeals to him.
“We have bounced the idea around,” Joshua shares. “Biosensors, prosthetics, biomedical devices—with what we are studying, there are a lot of directions we could go.”