Thomas Strother recently helped Montana Tech bring home trophies and beat out longtime rival Purdue University.
Strother, a senior at the school, is an occupational safety and health major. He and 20 other students from the school attended an international competition in March in Las Cruces, N.M.
Strother's team, the Environmental Design Team, won first-, second- and third-place trophies that were placed in a case in the student union of Montana Tech.
But placing at the competition was only one step in winning. The team spent a year preparing for the tough competition.
Strother's team was given a task of removing waste from a tank. The task was modeled after underground tanks in Washington that leak waste into the water table in the Columbia River drainage.
The team had one year to prepare for the task at hand. In the year, the group had to experiment with different ideas of cleaning the tank at the competition.
"You want to develop a lot of ideas during that year and then experiment," he said.
While developing and experimenting, the group had to write a report about the step-by-step process involved with cleaning the tank.
An economic evaluation also was required of the group to explain how economically feasible the project was and what the breakdown was in the cost from start to finish.
With all experiments done and the competition on the horizon, the group then traveled to New Mexico for the four-day excursion.
Strother said the group removed waste from a bench model, a smaller sized replica of the original problem, using mechanical means.
"We had a tank full of sludge. We had to take that sludge out," he said, explaining the process.
After the group removed the waste from the replica, they faced judges, known experts in the field, for a 15-minute oral presentation. The written paper, economic evaluation, oral presentation and bench scale were judged at the event.
"This was a practical application of four years of pushing pencils," he said.
After evaluation of the Tech group and teams from six other institutions, Tech placed first.
Strother said the win was especially nice because some of the other colleges, including Purdue, are given budgets to fund students work for the competitions. Montana Tech does not have such a budget, and Strother and other group members had to raise money and funds to pursue to event.
"The odds are kind of stacked against you to begin with," he said. "We were there to do our best, ... We were there to represent our school in a mature manner," he said. "I feel good."
Strother said after graduating he would like to return to Alaska if the opportunities are right.
"If I could use my degree and expertise to work locally, I would like to do that," he said.
In the meantime, a stroll by the trophy case at Montana Tech is all he needs to bring a smile to his face.
"It's a good sense of accomplishment," he said.
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