From Student to Sponsor: Q&A With Wyatt Pena

July 29, 2022

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a group of 7 people stands with a cart displaying materials used for an engineering project
Wyatt Pena (left) with Team 22046, which designed ultra-low power IoT sensors for condition-based maintenance in the railroad industry. “We couldn’t be happier with the successful results achieved by our team,” Pena said.

Wyatt Pena earned his bachelor's degree in engineering management from the University of Arizona in 2017. He serves as director of operations at Ridgetop Group, an engineering firm providing products and technology for aerospace, defense, transportation, energy and industrial applications.

Ridgetop has worked with several universities to sponsor research projects, internships and other collaborations. The most recent academic year, 2021-2022, was the first that the company sponsored an Interdisciplinary Capstone project with the UA.

Tell us about the capstone project you did when you were a student.

My capstone project was sponsored by Caterpillar Inc. shortly after they made Tucson their new regional headquarters. The scope of my team’s project was to design and develop a ruggedized multifrequency antenna mast system (AMS) for Caterpillar’s 793F large mining truck. Our mentor was Steve Larimore, who was the lead instructor for the capstone program this past year. With Steve’s guidance and support and the invaluable course structure of the capstone program, my team and I successfully designed, developed and tested a prototype implementation of a lightweight and retractable AMS. Our solution was safe, cost-effective, and was designed to enable more robust communication of GPS information, multifrequency radios, and critical telemetry data for Caterpillar’s large mining trucks that are in service worldwide.   

Did your experience in the capstone program prepare you for your career?

The program did an outstanding job at preparing me for my career here at Ridgetop. And it also allowed me to utilize my past experience and knowledge about the mining industry after growing up in a small mining town and conducting multiple summer internships at a local copper mine. There are so many skills and lessons I learned from the capstone project and my courses within the Systems and Industrial Engineering Department that are directly transferrable to industry. Perhaps the most utilized skills I learned are related to the systems engineering design process, and how the “V-model” can be a highly effective project management tool to lead a team of multidisciplined engineers through an entire project/product lifecycle from concept to deployment.

How long have you personally been involved as an advisor?

This was my first year going through the program as a project sponsor rather than a student, so I did my best to provide the necessary support, access to facilities, and expertise for our team to carry out their assignments.  

Can you tell us about the team you worked with?

We worked with Team 22046 on ultra-low power IoT sensors for condition-based maintenance in the railroad industry. For this unique project, the team was tasked with designing a prototype energy harvesting system that could capture vibrational and solar energy to power our IoT sensors, called RotoSense. The team was highly successful in completing this project by utilizing their diverse backgrounds and skills in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, systems engineering and applied physics.

What were some of the most rewarding moments of being a program advisor?

There were several rewarding moments I experienced while working with our team. The first that comes to mind was seeing how the team came together to overcome design challenges and continue making progress with the fast-paced coursework. This team’s impressive persistence and commitment also reminded me of my senior design team back in 2017, and I was glad I was able to relate to their challenges and provide guidance based on my experiences.

This leads me to the next rewarding moment I experienced, where I got to witness the culmination of all their hard work at Craig M. Berge Design Day. I was extremely impressed with the team’s confidence and professionalism when they demonstrated their prototype energy harvesting system, and I look forward to staying in touch with each of them as they start their journeys in industry or graduate school. 

Would you recommend the sponsor experience to other companies and alumni?

I highly recommend the experience. After going through this program as both a student and a sponsor, I can confidently say there is not a better investment that can be made to further a project or solve a particular set of engineering design challenges. The value of this opportunity does not stop with just the single capstone project, as we also found value in this program as a recruiting tool for top-tier talent.

In order for us to further utilize the resulting prototype from the 2022 capstone project, we decided to hire one of our team members as an engineering intern. We look forward to continuing the sponsorship experience with exciting projects that will eventually be integrated into Ridgetop’s products and technology.

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