Mentoring a young intellect

May 12, 2008

Dr. Mark Wicks, professor of Computer Engineering and interim associate vice president of Academic Affairs at Kettering University, mentors a local 14-year-old genius in the art and theory of Computer Engineering.

On first glance, he looks like a typical 14-year-old eighth-grade student: black framed glasses, brown hair, the awkward gait of a kid growing into his long-limbed body. Nothing about him physically suggests the depth of his intelligence or how truly gifted he is.

Then again, intelligence is impervious to one’s physical appearance.

Still, the awareness is there. Yet the ego one might associate with an individual fully cognizant of his innate intellectual capabilities is absent, perhaps a product of a good, humble upbringing.

And for those corporate leaders who lament the country’s K-12 education system and lack of interest in science and math among our youth, this student represents a precise example of what is right with focused education and scientific opportunity for kids in the U.S.

Matthew R. Bauerle ofFenton,Mich., is a young man destined for a compelling career perhaps in the field of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Why? The evidence thus far is clear: a perfect 36 score on the science ACT test on his first try. Although his score on the math section was lower—a 33—his parents and his mentor, Dr. Mark Wicks of Kettering University, feel it’s only a matter of time before Matthew achieves perfection in the Math section of the ACT.

Bauerle is one of many kids across the country considered “profoundly gifted/intelligent,” according to the Davidson Institute (http://www.ditd.org/), an organization based onReno,Nev., which recognizes, nurtures and supports profoundly intelligent young people and provides opportunities for them to develop their talents to make a positive difference. The organization offers free support services to gifted children under the age of 18 throughout theU.S. who exhibit an extreme need for constant mental stimulation; an ability to learn and process complex information rapidly; a need to explore subjects in surprising dept; an insatiable curiosity with endless questions and inquiries; a need for precision in thinking and expression; an ability to focus intently on a subject for long periods of time; and an inability to concentrate on a task that is not intellectually challenging, including repetitious ideas or material presented in small pieces.

Wicks began working with the young student four years ago through Bauerle’s parents, Mary and Paul, who found the professor’s name through the Davidson Institute. Wicks is one of many mentors the institute often connects to students of high intelligence who live in the mid-Michigan area to help nurture their interests.

“We contacted the Davidson Institute when we realized Matthew had special gifts,” Mary said. “We knew he would need a mentor and we requested their help in finding one. Eventually, we connected with Dr. Wicks through Davidson and he and Matthew have worked together since,” she added.

In 2004, Bauerle and Wicks began exploring how electrical circuits operate and learning about micro computing. Today, they have advanced to understanding wire-frame graphics and digital signal processing. The two meet once every two weeks to discuss Bauerle’s projects and related interests.

The young student is also working with Kettering’s Dr. Jim Gover, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, on the modeling of the drive train of a hybrid vehicle to minimize the overall power loss in the system.  In addition, Bauerle is currently taking Gover’s EE 424—Power Electronics course as an independent study and using notes posted online at MITA for graduate students also taking a similar course. According to Gover, “he’s doing very well in the course and we hope to have a paper ready for Matthew to present inDearbornfor theInstituteofElectricaland Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Vehicular Power and Propulsion Conference in 2009, which will be held inDearborn.”

“Matthew shows considerable interest in these fields and at the age of five read his father’s college textbooks, so he clearly desires these kinds of intellectual challenges,” Wicks said, adding that although much of what Bauerle read was difficult, “he could comment on the book, discuss principles expressed in the work and how the pieces worked together.”

The textbooks were Digital Circuits and Microprocessors by Herbert Taub and Micro-Electronic Circuits by Adel Sedra. The fact that he was even motivated to read them at all, Wicks said, showed that he had the motivation to challenge himself intellectually, which is one of the markers of a gifted child.

This is not surprising to Matthew’s mother and father. Mary Bauerle continues to home school Matthew and his younger brother, Joshua, 12. His older sister, Sarah, 18, was also home schooled and is currently a freshman majoring in Music at ConcordiaUniversityin Ann Arbor, Mich. His father, Paul, is an engineer at the GM Proving Grounds inMilford,Mich., and said that Matthew reminds him of what he liked to do as a kid.

As far as Matthew’s interest in circuits and things electrical, Paul is not surprised at his son’s level of interest.

“I was interested in electronics as well, specifically amplifiers, when I was his age,” Paul said.   

Recently, Matthew participated in a regional science fair held atKetteringUniversity. His project, titled “Finding the Maximum Power Point of a Solar Panel with a Golden Section Search Algorithm,” earned him a first prize selection in the junior division. His hypothesis examined the potential of whether or not a boost converter could greatly increase the power from a 3-volt solar panel into a resistive load. Additionally, Bauerle predicted that a Golden Section Search Algorithm will serve as an effective method for finding the maximum system efficiency of a small Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) unit.

What does all of this mean?

Well, according to Bauerle’s supporting paper to his science project, the solar panel he used provided an open circuit voltage of three volts and six cells. One issue with solar cells is that they provide the most power at a certain voltage, which is defined as the Maximum Power Point (MPP). If a solar panel does not operate at this point, some power waste is possible. Bauerle added a MPPT converter to his solar panel and increased its output voltage to lift a small weight.

Although this technique is used to power large solar arrays, Bauerle suspects that it’s never powered a small one using the Golden Section Search to identify the maximum value of a function between two bounds. In essence, he was able to take a very small solar array and maximize its power output, which, in his view, has not been attempted until now.

And while he is only a few years away from a full-time college career, he may take a college course or two before enrolling full-time. For Wicks, the motivation and intelligence of Bauerle is both exciting and inspiring. “Matthew continues to surprise me with his quick mind and breadth of interests. I am often surprised to find that his knowledge and interest in other subjects is equally deep as it is with Electrical and Computer Engineering,” Wicks said, adding, “it’s been very rewarding to watch Matthew grow intellectually and as a person during the four years that I’ve worked with him.”

Written by Gary J. Erwin
810.762.9538
gerwin@kettering.edu