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Wilson ’20: Inspiration from the Powerlifting Platform

Cadet Annie Wilson ’20 worked with her academic advisor, Lt. Col. Joyce Blandino, Ph.D., on building a “squat device” to consistently, specifically measure the angle of a powerlifter’s squat during the squat event. Wilson applied for and received Jackson-Hope funding to build the device as a SURI project. Photo by Micalyn Miller, VMI Alumni Agencies.

A former high school wrestler, Cadet Annie Wilson ’20 was looking for something new when she matriculated. She wandered down to Cocke Hall’s weight room, heard about the powerlifting team and was soon spending her afternoons doing what she calls “weightlifting – but much more intense.”

At powerlifting competitions, judges eyeball competitors and determine if their form is correct or not, and the competitor has only one minute to review the call. As Wilson grew in the sport, she began noticing subjective variances in the judges’ calls. “There’s little nuances the judges look for,” she said, and a glimmer of an idea began to form. When judges determined one of her squats was not up to the standard, the glimmer grew into a Jackson-Hope funded Summer Undergraduate Research Institute project. Wilson thought to herself, “It’s 2019 – there is technology for this. I’m in mechanical engineering; I know we can do something about this easily.”

Wilson talked to her academic advisor, Lt. Col. Joyce Blandino, Ph.D., about building a “squat device” to consistently, specifically measure the angle of a powerlifter’s squat during the squat event. To Blandino, a seasoned teacher who believes in getting to know her students through repeated connections, the proposal was a perfect fit. The project let Wilson apply what she had learned through her engineering classes, plus it involved her expertise and personal interest in powerlifting.

Under Blandino’s guidance, Wilson applied for and received Jackson-Hope funding to build the device as a SURI project. The Jackson-Hope grant allowed Wilson to buy the parts she needed – rulers, a rotary encoder and a breadboard, or circuit board. She learned a new coding language, and by summer’s end, she had a working prototype.

The project is not quite where Wilson wants it to be, so she’s continuing her work on the squat device as her senior design project. Her aim is twofold: To make the device more compact and to increase the increments the device can read from full degrees to quarters of a degree.

Jackson-Hope funds allow cadets to complete SURI projects each summer, but their reach goes beyond a few warm weeks in civilian clothes. “I’ve been involved with undergraduate research for the past nine years. It’s really very important,” Blandino said, noting that finishing a project from begin to end increases cadets’ confidence. “When they come in from high school, they don’t know too much about anything. When they’re done, they’re ready to face the world and accept any challenge the world throws at them.”

 

Annie Wilson '20

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