Diaries of a Involved International Student
January 31, 2023
My name is Selis Yaltkaya, and I’m a junior studying mechanical engineering at The Grainger College of Engineering. My hometown is Antalya, Turkey. In my two and a half years at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I have been involved in exciting student organizations, innovative internships and unique projects. I initially had concerns about starting my college life in the midst of a global pandemic. All those concerns faded away when I came to campus. I partner with classmates to overcome engineering challenges and even found myself a community and passion within Illini Solar Car.
One of the engineering challenges from the past semester was to design a zero-budget glider for my Fluid Dynamics course. In a group of three students, we researched the basic principles of flight and utilized the concepts from class (like the Bernoulli principle) to build an indoor glider with a specific glide ratio to land on a target 70 ft away. We built and tested multiple prototypes at the on-campus Innovation Studio, where we have tools and materials readily accessible.
For our final lecture, the class completed and threw their gliders at the Monumental Steps of the new Campus Instructional Facility. The competition was really exciting because it drew a large audience and the professor was announcing over the speaker systems. I felt the pressure of the competition when it was our team’s turn to throw the glider because it was essential to throw at the correct velocity.
Our glider missed the target by a few feet. After the competition ended, all the teams came together and threw their gliders at the same time, creating an amazing view. It was definitely the most fun I’ve had in a lecture. The class enabled me to present a project I worked hard on to a large audience in a celebration of learning, designing and building as a soon-to-be engineer.
This past summer, I had a chance to explore the manufacturing aspect of engineering more in-depth at PSYONIC. The company started on our campus with the goal to create prosthetic devices that seamlessly integrate with the human neuromuscular system. Their product, the Ability Hand™, has sensors in its fingertips that detect pressure when you’re gripping an object and send a vibration to your arm to communicate that sensation. It lets users feel what they’re doing, so they can work with even the most delicate objects.
While interning with PSYONIC (located at the Research Park south of campus), I manufactured carbon-fiber palm pieces for the Ability HandTM. The carbon fiber’s stiff and lightweight characteristics make the material essential for the hand. In my Engineering Materials class, I learned about composites and how to test their material properties, so I felt great pride when I used what I learned in class to improve how we manufacture the carbon-fiber parts at PSYONIC. It's also extremely rewarding to know that my engineering knowledge will help people who need prosthetic devices.
Apart from classes, I spend most of my time working on projects within Illini Solar Car, a student-run organization that designs, builds and races road-legal solar cars across the world. I started out in Illini Solar Car as a mechanical team member during my freshman year. I quickly made many friends while building our second-generation solar car, Brizo. At this time, my work mostly entailed sanding and cutting the carbon fiber panels at our team’s workshop. The more time I spent sanding with my teammates, the more I learned about the other aspects of the car.
The summer after my freshman year I found myself changing the wheels of our solar car in the middle of nowhere Colorado, as part of the endurance race, the American Solar Challenge. I saw first-hand the many different ways mechanical parts can fail, but I also learned the many different ways you can fix those parts, whether it’s at the design or post-production stage.
I am currently the Director of Engineering of Illini Solar Car. As we design our third-generation solar car, my duty is to oversee how the design of the electrical and mechanical parts come together in the final product. It is very exciting, but requires great responsibility. I look forward to racing our new car at the most challenging solar car race in the world - the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia.
It has truly been a journey for me at the U. of I. I started college as a concerned freshman and grew into a person who helps people with engineering and plays a major part in Illini Solar Car. The Grainger College of Engineering is truly full of people like me - people who find a lot of opportunities to grow their passions or find new ones.