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Georgia Tech gives Lilburn students drive to succeed

Georgia Tech has come a long way from the "rambling wrecks" their engineers constructed for projects in South African jungles in the late 1800s. They constructed these wrecks out of whatever scrap parts they could find, but it was their ingenuity that made them run.

Today, Georgia Tech's Motorsports and Off-Road teams have no trouble finding parts for their vehicles, but their ingenuity is still what makes everything come together.

These two teams recently visited Lilburn Elementary School's Challenge Science students, an enrichment class taught by Simone Dreifuss. They not only brought their creations to demonstrate how they apply their book learning to real life, but also used their ingenuity to gear the technology down to the kids' level.

Motorsports team leader Tom Kwazniak proudly told the students that both teams consistently place in the top 10 percent in worldwide competitions and challenged the students to identify rivaling countries by their flags. Faster than he could point kids were calling out Brazil! The Netherlands! Finland!

Next, team members passed out car parts such as a titanium spindle, a brake caliper and a rear differential. "Remember these, because later we'll have you identify them on the vehicles," Kwazniak said.

Standing in the back, taking this in at a higher level were Rina So, Wesley Mitchell, Kenneth Wang and Paul Jang, juniors at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology. These students have volunteered to mentor the LES Robotics Team for the FIRST Lego League Competition, an international event for which the 2009 theme is "Smart Move."

"Children are the future. We'd like to be role models and help show them a path they can follow," Jang said, making me think these students have already made a smart move.

Outside for the main event, the kids shrieked and cheered as Off-Road drivers sped up and down hills and concrete stairs, and in and out of weeds and puddles. As Off-Road's Eric Sood started to explain how their engines worked, a fourth-grader pointed and said, "Look. There's the rear differential."

Out front, where the buses usually idle, Kwazniak drove his race car up and down the lanes at lightning speed. And it wasn't just showing off. The wear and tear on the rubber is part of a real life road test with Michelin Tires.

"This has been so inspiring. And it's real world experience that ties in with what they're learning in science," Dreifuss said.

Several fifth-graders shared their thoughts with me.

"At first I thought they just wanted to inspire kids to go to Tech," Robert McLure said, "but now I want to try some racing."

"I was inspired by how much time they put into this," Irina Jacimovic said.

"This inspired me for a design for our Robotics Team," Katelynn Cheeseborough said.

To all participants at all levels of this crossroads of ingenuity and inspiration, all I can say is "Smart move."

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.