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Wisconsin Autonomous June 2023
February 13, 2024

Q&A with Wisconsin Autonomous student leaders

Written By: Caitlin Scott



Wisconsin Autonomous is a multi-disciplinary student organization at UW-Madison dedicated to the research and development of self-driving vehicles. Operations Lead Ariel Leykin (Business Administration) and Hardware Team members Jacob Guinter (December 2023 ME grad) and Josh Clark (ME freshman) shared their thoughts on how their student org experience has benefitted their engineering education and personal development.

What opportunities do students on teams like Autonomous get to take advantage of?

Ariel Leykin Wisconsin Autonomous
Ariel Leykin

Leykin: Something unique about Wisconsin Autonomous is that we get the opportunity to travel to the competition site multiple times a year, rather than just once a year like many other teams. During these visits, we engage in conversations with other teams, sponsors, and volunteers who are involved in the competition. Since our competition spans four years, we often see familiar faces, leading to a sense of camaraderie among us. These ongoing interactions not only foster collaboration but also go beyond the competitive aspect of the event, providing opportunities for mutual learning and growth that extend beyond the UW-Madison community.

Also, our involvement has allowed us to establish meaningful relationships with industry professionals. Our assigned General Motors mentor has become a vital part of our group and has basically become another team member. These professionals offer valuable perspective and guidance which has allowed our team members to gain deep insights into the inner workings of products and technologies widely used in the automotive sector.

Being involved in Wisconsin Autonomous provides our team members with knowledge that goes beyond what’s typically available in a classroom. This includes technical expertise, as well as valuable skills in problem-solving and collaboration. Additionally, it has given us the chance to explore various specialized areas within the automotive industry, offering insights into potential career paths and contributions we could make in the future. Many students choose to dive deeper into specific aspects of autonomous technology and further their education in graduate school. Others decide to jump into the industry, often landing jobs thanks to the connections they’ve built through the competition or their unique experiences and knowledge that make them stand out as great candidates.

Please share more about your Autonomous experience. What have your roles been and why is it worthwhile?

Jacob Guinter Wisconsin Autonomous
Jacob Guinter

Guinter: I have been a member of the Integration Teams and its successor, the Hardware Team. I have helped with countless projects over the years, and have observed the evolution of physical solutions within the team. My journey with the team kicked off when we first got our car from a competition. From the get-go, I got to play a big role in designing and putting together a roof rack for our car. This rack was key for holding all our sensors in place. It’s been amazing to be part of the whole process. From the early days of sketching out ideas to actually building and seeing our plans come to life, every step has been a learning experience. It’s been about trying things out, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and then tweaking our designs to make them better. Seeing our ideas turn into something real has been super rewarding. Starting with just some simple sketches and then watching those ideas become a critical part of our car – it’s been a great experience.

How did your mechanical engineering studies help prepare you for whatever you’re doing next? Did any particular mentors make an impact on your experience?

Guinter: The mechanical engineering program helped build the confidence and capability I carry into my career through a combination of undergraduate studies, research and academic clubs such as Wisconsin Autonomous. Fundamental classes like thermodynamics, circuits, design of machine elements, and others provide the backbone, but much of the true learning is done in applying that knowledge to problems faced in undergraduate research, clubs, or senior design projects. Mentors are readily available along the way, whether that is professors such as Glenn Bower who assists many of the mechanical/automotive clubs on campus, graduate students working alongside in research, or simply peer mentors within classes or the clubs you are involved in. The collaborative atmosphere here at UW-Madison is something I have truly grown to appreciate and will carry Forward as a Badger Engineer.

What might you share with other UW/Engineering students coming up behind you?

WA Josh Clark
Josh Clark

Clark: Participate in engineering clubs that aren’t related to your planned profession sector (assuming you already thought of one). I came to the College of Engineering with the mindset that I wanted to work in the amusement industry. But when I heard about Wisconsin Autonomous, it caught my attention as it had a unique spin on traditional car organizations. Being a freshman in mechanical engineering I wasn’t sure I would be able to contribute much towards the club. However, I, along with many other freshmen, made an impact on this club in a significant way. For example, our opinions and proposed solutions are encouraged to be brought up by upperclassmen and faculty. Moreover, some of us hold some form of leadership position.

I came to this group without much knowledge of autonomous cars or basic car knowledge. However, over my first semester with this club, I began to understand the unique features needed for our car, such as a CANbus (Controller Area Network) or V2X (Vehicle to Anything). So I’m grateful that I had a chance to participate in a club that didn’t focus on theme parks and allowed me to become a more holistic engineer. And I would encourage more engineers to try a unique engineering club.

Wisconsin Autonomous June 2023
WA team presentation for the Concept Design Event at the year 2 competition in June 2023.
Wisconsin Autonomous June 2023
All-teams photo taken at the MCity competition site, an autonomous vehicle testing facility in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan. June 2023.
Wisconsin Autonomous Feb 2024
Students at winter workshop for competition, February 2024
Back row from left to right: Robert Stegeman, Josh Clark, Keshav Sharan, Mason Crooks, Sriram Ashokkumar
Front row left to right: Ariel Leykin, Kwasi Debrah-Pinamang, Jed Pulley, Patrick Chen, Minh Tran, Glenn Bower (faculty advisor)

Featured image: WA team with some of the trophies they earned at the end of year 2 competition awards banquet in June 2023. Provided by Ariel Leykin.