STEM Spotlight: Experiential Fundraising for Experiential Learning

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Take a moment and imagine that you are a 21 year-old Mechanical Engineering student.

You’re taking courses in Engineering Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Machine Design Analysis, and Heat Transfer (yes, you assure your friends, those are my actual classes). And while you sometimes leave with your head spinning, overall you are excelling in all of your classes. You’re also averaging four hours of sleep a night, but you tell yourself,

I’ve got this.

And before you blink, you have reached the end of your college career. You’re walking across the stage. You did it, and you did it well.

But as the moment passes, it hits you – and you are completely unprepared for it.

You’ve graduated alongside thousands of other talented engineers with who have completed the same coursework. Peers who also excelled in their classes and will be entering the job market with you. You realize, perhaps too late, that your coursework alone might not cut it in your dynamic career field. The competition is too fierce.

But a student group at University of Washington is seeking to change this story.


They want students to leave college armed with the preparedness and confidence to create, collaborate, and achieve alongside professionals.

Meet the Human Powered Submarine team at UW.

Each student on the Human Powered Submarine team plays an integral part in one of the four collaborative teams that design, build, test, and ultimately race the UW submarine.

“In the process, they also become world-class project engineers,” one of the team captains, Bentley, shares in their crowdfunding campaign video.

For those interested, here’s how a pilot races their team’s submarine:

  • A team member – the pilot – climbs inside the submarine and breathes with the help of an aqualung, which has been installed onboard the submarine.
  • The pilot then straps their feet to pedals in the submarine and proceeds to pedal – fast. And make no mistake, the training for this is intense. Think about what it’s like to run underwater, let alone pedal inside of a small apparatus underwater.
  • Finally, the pilot navigates the submarine using a complex joystick. He or she is now tasked with steering while simultaneously pedaling to generate the energy that the submarine needs to move faster than all of the other submarines.

How cool (or terrifying, depending on who you ask) is that?

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But to make this happen – to purchase the raw materials to build the submarine and to cover the travel expenses for the competition, they had to consider where to turn for financial support.

Crowdfunding, for UW Human Powered Submarine, provides a bridge between what could be and what is. Better, crowdfunding itself is experiential learning – it is collaboration and hustle and creativity packaged to help students better prepare for their futures by exercising new soft skills.

Even the team knows that crowdfunding extends beyond the need to raise money for tangible assets. They effectively harnessed it as a platform to educate their community and to share the impact the experience has on its members.

“Your financial contribution today not only supports the goals of our team of making it to and succeeding in the European International Submarine Race this summer,” Bentley closes out their campaign video, “but it also supports the larger vision of the team by impacting the lives of these young, ambitious engineers in a way that will follow them for the rest of their lives.”

Imagine now you are the same student from earlier, but you joined the Human Powered Submarine team during your freshman year. You surrounded yourself with passionate, like-minded peers.

When you were 21, you even helped lead a crowdfunding campaign so that your team could participate in an international competition amongst the most innovative teams in the world.

Because of your experience with the Human Powered Submarine team, you learned how to collaborate in a real-world setting. You brought what you learned in the classroom to life in very specific ways. You travelled internationally and raced against other brilliant minds who dissolved under pressure. But not you – not your team.

What an adventure!

You now not only have a competitive advantage in your career field, but your story is changed forever. You are different. Confident. Ready.

The Human Powered Submarine team is one of dozens at University of Washington providing students with experiential learning opportunities that change the course of their lives.

What an honor it is to be a part of their story. What a joy! What an experience.


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