Scott Johnston Shares Skills Across Innovative Projects, Student Activities

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Scott Johnson works on race car with other students.

Meeting The Challenge: Scott Johnston (left) joined Katelyn Stenger, Colin Strate, and Christopher Wood inside the Branam Innovation Center while working on a suspension system prototype for this year's Valeo Innovation Challenge, a global student automotive design competition.

Scott Johnston crossed the country from Federal Way, Washington, to attend Rose-Hulman. So, it shouldn't be surprising that he has spread his talents across several campus activities during the past three years.

On any day you could find him working on projects in the Branam Innovation Center to improve the aerodynamics of the Rose Grand Prix Engineering team's race car, helping develop parts for cars of the future through the Valeo Innovation Challenge, creating technology solutions as an intern at Rose-Hulman Ventures, or showcasing his dramatic skills on the Hatfield Hall Theater stage.

In fact, you would imagine that Scott Johnston has a twin, with all of the places he seems to be while striving to earn a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, a minor in economics, and having specialized concentrations in advanced transportation and aerospace.

"I like finding my limits," the senior says. "I really can't say 'no' to anything. If I'm interested in something, I'm going to find a way to do it."

That's what happened when Johnston became involved in the Valeo Innovation Challenge, a global contest inviting engineering students from around the world to design innovative products or systems that will create smarter, more intuitive cars by 2030. He joined with junior Colin Strate, sophomore Christopher Wood, and 2015 graduate Katelyn Stenger to create a prototype of an "active" suspension system that senses road conditions and makes adjustments to provide a smoother ride, decrease tire wear, and improve fuel efficiency as the vehicle holds better to the contour of the road.

This is the second consecutive year a Rose-Hulman student team has been one of just two U.S. colleges chosen for the prototype development stage. Twenty teams from 12 countries on four continents excelled this far, from more than 1,300 initial project proposals.

Johnston has been the only student involved in both of Rose-Hulman's Valeo Innovation Challenge teams.

"We're trying to push the boundaries of suspension design," he says. "I don't like the status quo and doing the same old design. We think we have something different and innovative."

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Finding His Limits: Senior mechanical engineering student Scott Johnston has contributed to projects for the Rose Grand Prix Engineering team, Robotics Club, and Rose-Hulman Ventures. He has also performed in three Drama Club productions on campus. (Photos by Bryan Cantwell)

Assisted by $5,000 from Valeo, the Rose-Hulman team worked diligently to complete its prototype by July 17. The students are anticipating the September 1 announcement of the six finalist teams that will be invited to Paris, France to present their ideas to the jury of automotive industry experts. Then, the top three teams will be announced on September 29.

"If you have the right focus and right people, you can realize your dreams," Johnston says. "We have had a strong, cohesive team that's been committed to success throughout this year's Valeo Innovation Challenge, and we're anxious to see the judges' opinions about our designs."

Like most of his classmates, Johnston's engineering skills were encouraged from a love of everything Lego. Later, he became passionate about battlebots, and built combat robots that earned awards at Midwest competitions as part of Rose-Hulman's Robotics Club. His interests also include designing and implementing an aerodynamics package line for the advanced transportation system's Rose Grand Prix Engineering racing team, which participates in the Society of Automotive Engineers' annual competition at the Michigan International Speedway. Then, he completed an internship this summer at Rose-Hulman Ventures, helping industry clients create new products and streamline production issues.

"I have liked building things and cars since I was a kid. I always wanted to be the person who designed a better automobile," he says.

That's why his idols include former Ford Motor Company President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alan Mulally, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, and Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson.

It's not all work and no play for Johnston, whose dramatic talents have been featured in roles for Rose-Hulman Drama Club musical productions of "Les Miserables," "Chicago," and "Jekyll and Hyde," and hopes to cut his acting chops for the final time next spring in "West Side Story."

"I like learning and stretching my talents as far as I can," he says. "I came to Rose-Hulman to take advantage of all the opportunities outside class. There's never a dull moment around here."