STM Seniors Earn First Place at Wisconsin PLTW Engineering Design and Biomedical Innovations Competition

Three members of STM’s newest graduation class–Isabel Jimenez, Sarah Pelzek, and Audrey Raflik–placed first at this year’s Wisconsin Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Engineering Design and Biomedical Innovations Competition hosted by the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).

Created as part of STM’s PLTW Engineering Design & Development capstone course, the students’ project, Milwaukee County Zoo Coal-Handling Project, addressed the problems with the storage and removal of coal ash with the train at the Milwaukee County Zoo. These issues make the train operators’ jobs more difficult–and potentially dangerous–and affect the 400,000 zoo visitors who ride the train each year.

To view the team’s final project, please visit click here.

In STM’s PLTW Engineering capstone course, students identify a problem in the community and use their engineering experience to propose a solution. At the beginning of the school year, students attend a kick-off meeting where they present their project ideas. And, in each subsequent class, groups meet to discuss design ideas, conduct research, collaborate with mentors, test prototypes, and prepare papers and presentations.

“The zoo train project was introduced as an idea by Ms. [Emily] Pirkl at the beginning of the year as a possible project idea,” said team member Isabel Jimenez, who will begin her studies in Mechanical Engineering this fall while enrolled at the US Coast Guard Academy. “Our team talked about it as a group and decided that even if the zoo did not choose our design, it could still have a lasting impact on the community.”

“Ms. Pirkl guided our process throughout the year by setting assignment and paper deadlines and giving us advice when we needed it,” continued team member Audrey Raflik, who will attend MSOE to study Biomolecular Engineering. “We learned to work together as a team, manage ourselves, and work towards a long-term goal. One of the best parts was that we were given the opportunity to work with many experts outside the school and interact with other prospective engineering students throughout this project.”

Collaborating with each other and industry experts became much more challenging when the spread of COVID-19 necessitated a shift to virtual learning.

“We had to drop all of our quarter four plans, which included testing our design further and building the physical model,” explained team member Sarah Pelzek, who will study Mechanical Engineering at MSOE next year. “Instead, we had to focus on digital aspects, and we prioritized virtual testing with 3D design programs, such as Revit & Inventor. We communicated through Microsoft Teams and Schoology and often worked long hours after class to get everything done.”

“The biggest adaptation is that any physical building and testing had to stop,” said PLTW Engineering teacher Emily Pirkl. “Originally, the students had planned on building scale models and doing several different tactile tests. They brainstormed ways to test some of their design using computer software when possible.” 

Students tested their ideas with scale models when possible, but also had to run digital tests due to distance learning

Pirkl believes that superb documentation, communication, and organization set the team of Jimenez, Pelzek, and Raflik them apart from their peers. “Throughout the year, this team wrote excellent papers documenting their work and could express issues and concerns and reach out for resources when needed,” continued Pirkl. “During every meeting the team would come up with plans to adjust to their new circumstances, and each teammate was accountable.”

Congratulations, Isabel, Audrey, and Sarah, on this incredible accomplishment!

To see the other 2020 Senior Design Projects, click here.


  1. Very good presentation. Looks like you considered everything! Well done!

  2. This is amazing. Congratulations !

    David Seitz

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