“We had it in us all along”: Materials science and engineering department wins Alumni Cup

The Alumni Cup and medals for members of the winning team. (Gabby Baniqued/The Diamondback)

By Alyssa Kraus
For The Diamondback

Engineering school dean Darryll Pines walked to the center of the crowded Kim Engineering Building rotunda on Friday with a microphone in hand, ready to announce this year’s winner of the Alumni Cup Competition. Each of the eight competing departments stood by their Rube Goldberg machines in anticipation, some teammates holding hands.

The materials science and engineering team took first place in this year’s Alumni Cup for the first time since 2016 with its intricate and artistic Space Jam-themed machine — a theme that was also used by the aerospace engineering team. The materials team was supported by its fellow department members, who were decked out in matching team shirts.

The Alumni Cup is an annual competition for the engineering school, where students build complex machines to complete a task based on a strict rule guide. The students form departmental teams and have one week to design their machine with a budget of $100.

This year’s task — “Slam Dunk!” — was Maryland-basketball themed. Teams had to get a small basketball, which must be lifted half a meter, into a hoop. Each team got two trials to showcase its machine to a panel of judges. If the machine does not function properly, students can intervene to kickstart the next step in the process — though it was a penalty judges noted.

During the first run through of the machine, the materials team achieved the task with only one error that required student intervention. However, in its second trial, the machine completed a perfect slam dunk — an accomplishment only achieved by one other team in the entirety of the competition.

“In Space Jam,” senior materials team co-captain Shannon Donaldson said, referencing the theme of the materials team’s machine. “They have the theme of ‘Oh, you had it in you all along’ and that’s literally us with this thing. We had it in us all along.”

[Read more: Maryland basketball serves as inspiration for annual Alumni Cup Competition challenge ]

[Read more: “An open door policy”: How Darryll Pines plans to rebuild trust as UMD’s next president]

Pines said he was happy two teams fully completed the task and that, as a whole, the departments showcased complex machines.

“It gets better every year. When we first started this event, I would say the teams didn’t do a really great job, but then they got into the spirit by the second and third year,” Pines said. “And now we’ve evolved to, I think, really high quality demonstrations that at least two of them completed the full 20 cycles, which is great.”

Donaldson was shocked by their win and proud of the team effort it took to build their machine.

“I’m overjoyed right now. That’s probably an understatement — ecstatic!” Donaldson said. “I’m so energized right now, I don’t feel tired at all. This is the definition of hard work pays off.”

Competition manager Jeff Karceski said the team’s machine was impressive in demonstrating the different aspects of the materials department.

The mechanical engineering team took second place in the competition. Although its first attempt did not achieve the task, its second trial proved otherwise. The basketball swooshed through the hoop with only one case of student intervention during the showing.

“Of course it would’ve been better if we had placed higher, but we’re going to keep working to do better next year, and we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished here,” sophomore mechanical team member Kyle Pichney said.

Third place was awarded to the civil and environmental team for their “Country Roads”-themed machine. Both trials of the machine completed the task, but required at least one case of student intervention due to a machine failure.

“We wanted to come in first, but third will do just fine,” senior civil and environmental team co-captain Andrew Legaluppi said. “Getting together and building a project — that was really fun for us.”

Karceski said the accomplishments each department made in this year’s competition made it the best one in Alumni Cup history.

“When you’re there and you see the teams working with one another, you can tell that they’re just good friends and that they’re really having a good time and they work well together,” Karceski said.

Alumni, officials and students alike cheered for the materials team when Pines revealed the 2020 Alumni Cup winners. And, as for Pines, this was his last time attending the Alumni Cup as dean of the engineering school. He will replace university President Wallace Loh in July.

“It’s been special because it started under me,” Pines said. “I’m very happy with it. It’s sort of bittersweet … That’s why I’m here today, because I wanted to see the last one, but I’m here to enjoy it like everyone else.”

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