The Institute Report,April 2013, Page 15
Professor’s Mentorship Inspires Cadet Research
Things have changed at VMI
since Maj. Ryan Taylor ’04 was a
cadet, things like the upper level of
Crozet and Third Barracks, to name
a few. But what has not changed is
the emphasis that teachers place
on the educational experience of
When he graduated, Taylor felt
like many who cross the stage in
Cameron Hall: he was eager to
experience opportunities far from
“I never thought I’d come back,”
said Taylor, who found later, after
he completed graduate school, that
VMI looked different. Then, he
said, “I saw a unique environment,
opportunity. … I was impressed
with the mechanical engineering
department’s commitment to
supporting cadet-faculty research.”
As a cadet, Taylor had received
VMI’s Hinman Research Award for his work on computational modeling
of the glass-forming process for commercial bottles, those used for
soda, beer, and wine. To complete the project, he worked closely with
his faculty mentor, Maj. Matthew Hyre. Hyre dedicated time to Taylor’s
project well beyond what was generally required of faculty, working
closely with Taylor in the lab.
Taylor’s memories of his cadetship also include professors who gave
lectures without hands-on learning. So as a faculty mentor, Taylor has
tried to embody what his mentor taught him.
“I don’t just sit in the office all day and play with computer models,”
Taylor said. Instead, he engages with cadets and their projects. This
Maj. Ryan Taylor works with Evan Dill ’13 on his drone research project.
– VMI Photo by Alyssa Ford ’14.
work is a major emphasis of Taylor’s approach to teaching, and it’s an
area where he invests a lot of his time.
Hands on learning makes it easier to “bridge the gap” between lecture
and application, said Taylor, who has served as mentor for more than
23 undergraduate research projects within the past three years.
One of his more recent projects is with Evan Dill ’13, who has been
working on making a low-cost surveillance drone that is able to hold
small weapons or electronic payloads.
“We started with a model kit that you can buy at a local hobby
store, created a new wing profile, and reinforced the airframe with
the new loadings considered,” said Dill. “This project calls for me to
use everything I’ve learned in the last three
Taylor makes it his goal to have students
take ownership of their projects.
“You have to provide the spark. … Some
cadets get so overwhelmed [by being here
and with the heavy course load] that they
can’t see the big picture,” said Taylor.
“It is truly a marriage of the various parts
of the mechanical engineering discipline.
…We are bound to make mistakes,” said
Dill. “It is from these mistakes that we are
able to learn while building our plane. …
Major Taylor has pushed us in the right
direction and has been helpful every step of
Though much has changed at VMI since
Taylor was a cadet, he’s determined to extend
to a new generation of cadets the mentorship
experience that was so influential for him.
“To truly inspire someone, it’s rewarding,”
said Taylor. “It’s about understanding engi-
neering and what is required in the field.”
Then-Cadet Ryan Taylor ’04 works in a VMI lab. – VMI File Photo.