Zack Piper, 2834 Allaire Medalist

Feb 21, 2021

Hall of Fame Allaire Medalist 2018

What is the Allaire Medal?  The Championship Chairman’s Award winning teams choose 1-2 students who best embody the spirit of FIRST within the team.  The team honors these students with the Allaire Medal, in honor of Paul A. Allaire. 

Where are you now?

My name is Zack Piper, I am a junior studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan.

FIRST pushed me to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and showed me the thrill of engineering competition.  I learned a multitude of hands on skills through actively designing, constructing and modifying our robot, while also developing communication, critical thinking and time management skills I apply as an undergrad at Michigan.

Because of my FIRST experience, when I started at Michigan, I joined the University of Michigan Solar Car Team. In my freshman year, I became the team’s Operations Director, a member of the Team Executive Committee. Michigan Solar Car designs, manufactures and races the world’s fastest solar vehicles in the biennial Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Considered one of the most challenging Engineering competitions in the world, the multi-day race stretches more than 1800 miles through the Australian outback, beginning in Darwin and concluding in Adelaide.  

As Operations Director, I managed all team logistics, manufacturing and sourcing for the 12 month design / build period before the race and for the 3 month period the team was on site in Australia.  I handled transportation of the full team and solar car to and from Australia, working with shipping companies, customs brokers, etc to ensure our car was delivered on time and ready for the race.  I  was also responsible for ensuring the team understood the entire composites manufacturing process, which takes a part from CAD to a final carbon fiber part.  Finally, I contacted a vast number of companies to obtain essential materials for the car through partnerships and sponsorships.

I am proud to say the University of Michigan Solar Car team took 3rd place in the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Out of the 40 teams that began the race in Darwin, only 11 completed the full 1800 miles to Adelaide. It was a thrill to stand with the team on the podium. 

How did participating in Chairman’s impact your life?

My Chairman’s experience continues to impact my life on a daily basis. Through FIRST and Chairman’s, I learned to organize my time, plan the work and develop public speaking skills.  Prior to working on Chairman’s, I was not confident with speaking and had not pushed myself to improve and practice speaking in public settings. I did not know how to develop an organized plan to complete work and missed deadlines. 

Chairman’s gave me confidence and pushed me to work harder and step beyond my comfort zone.  Prior to FIRST, I was anxious any time I had to present in front of a group of people. After working on Chairman’s, presenting our team to sponsors, government leaders, other teams and to panels of judges at numerous competitions, I discovered confidence in my ability to present, both technical engineering and business solutions. I learned how to organize my thoughts and be prepared to do my best.  Effective public speaking and communication skills will be something I will use for the rest of my life. 

What skills do you still use?

I continue to use many skills I developed in FIRST; from mechanical design to entrepreneurial skills.  A key skill FIRST taught me that I still use today is obtaining sponsors/partnering with various companies.  When I reach out to companies all across the United States for sponsorship for the Solar Car Team, I feel confident in how to approach them in a professional manner, showcase the benefits the team has to offer and the two way relationship that is developed through the partnership. 

In addition to my work on Solar Car, I am a full time mechanical engineering student. I have to apply effective time management and organization skills daily to keep my studies and team business on track.  I believe that I would not have had a successful process and the skills to complete this work, if I had not done Chairman’s and participated in FIRST. 

Favorite memory from working on chairman’s?

My favorite memory from working on chairman’s was starting the 2834 advocacy sub-team and venturing to Washington DC to advocate for STEM funding in underprivileged schools.  Advocacy showed me how much power we can have when we come together for a common goal and that, when working together on a unified message, we can make a difference not only in our communities in Michigan, but in many communities across the US. I enjoyed the workshops hosted by team RUSH and other FRC teams and the tactics to recognize when lobbying.  I took a great deal away from attending the National Advocacy Conference and really enjoyed the entire experience: bonding with FIRST teams from all over the nation, working to present a unified proposal and plan while observing our democracy in action.  I would encourage anyone who has the chance to go on this trip and push themselves outside of their comfort zone.

Advice you would give teams today?

The 2834 Bionic Black Hawk motto is “Learn, Serve, Grow,” and I would advise any student today to apply that motto to their time in FIRST. Seize the opportunities presented to you, learn all you can from your mentors, sponsors, team members and other FIRST teams, and help grow the FIRST community by spreading the knowledge that you have gained. FIRST is an incredible experience that will give you skills and friendships for life. Take time to serve and mentor the students that are coming up behind you, you will grow as a person and gain so much by giving back. Serve those in your community and connect with members of government to promote FIRST and STEM. Work with your school, mentors and industry leaders to help continuously grow FIRST and get young students involved so they can have the opportunity to experience all FIRST has to offer. 

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