It looks like a strange windmill, but the contraption put to the test in the Cahoon Armory on the New Mexico Military Institute campus is actually a sports training machine designed by cadets.
NMMI students enrolled in an engineering design course with science faculty member Lt. Col. John Surgett have worked for three semesters to design and build an apparatus that can simulate an opponent blocking the volleyball team’s spikes.
A device like this can help players improve their skills, said Head Bronco Volleyball Coach Shelby Forchtner, while reducing the chance of injuries by teammates acting as blockers during practice.
After a trial demonstration of the “Bronco Blocker” with volleyball players Thursday, the five cadets who came up with the best design so far are back to perfecting. (The name is an acronym using the first letter of their last names.)
The apparatus took about 15 minutes of continuous hits before breaking, said Surgett.
“Our motto in the design classes is to ‘fail often in order to succeed sooner,’” he said. He added that he hopes the group will have a “successful, robust” design by the end of the academic year.
The impetus for the project came from Coach Forchtner a couple of years ago. She saw a video of a similar device built by a university. She contacted the school and originally was told that the design would be shared, but she later was informed that the concept had been bought and patented so that no designs could be provided to her.
She then turned to Surgett and his students, which at the time included two of her volleyball players who have since graduated. Since then, Surgett’s classes have taken up the challenge to create the apparatus, getting feedback from alumni, engineers and others along the way. Keys Welding of Roswell also donated labor and expertise.
The cadets with the top design this year are Bryce Bauer of Denver, Colorado; Donovan Cuellar of Chicago, Illinois; Michel Hirojos of Mexico; Diego Salido of Mexico; and Willie Uhrle of American Samoa. Four other students in Surgett’s class came up with the second-place concept.
“This is their first opportunity to use all this math and science that they have learned and do something with it,” said Surgett, “and they have found out that it doesn’t always work as it said in the textbooks.”
He added that students are learning a lot by working through the problems themselves and coming up with their own solutions.
Each semester’s work has built on the previous one, so if this class doesn’t build the perfect blocker this year, a new group of cadets likely will take up the challenge next spring.