GREAT FALLS – As a child, Grayce Holzheimer had polio, which causes her to lose mobility as she ages.
Holzheimer is an active person who enjoys spending time outside but was beginning to have difficulty pedaling her recumbent tricycle.
“A couple years ago, my doctors told me I needed to quit riding my trike,” Holzheimer said.
Ilaya Payne, who will be a sophomore this fall at Great Falls College MSU, heard about Holzheimer through her high school teacher and robotics mentor Chuck Merja. Merja knew Holzheimer was looking for someone to motorize her tricycle, and he knew Payne had the skills to do it.
Payne applied for and received an ARES Grant, which funded her time to work on the project. The Montana Space Grant Consortium awards ARES Grants to allow undergraduate students at colleges and universities throughout Montana to pursue research projects. An anonymous donor paid for the supplies.
Payne spent September of last year through this April figuring out how to motorize Holzheimer’s tricycle.
“It was a lot of work,” Payne said.
The tricycle motorization gave Payne a feel for the complete engineering design process, said Dr. Brenda Canine, science faculty at GFC MSU. Payne had to work with a client, set a budget, problem solve and deliver a final product on time.
“It was a good project for her because she got to see the entire engineering design process,” Canine said.
Payne plans to go into mechanical engineering through the 1+3 engineering transfer program, which allows students to start at Great Falls College MSU and finish their degree at Montana State University in Bozeman.
While the project wasn’t easy, it was fun and a great learning experience, Payne said.
She faced a number of challenges while designing and retrofitting the tricycle. It was a challenge to find a motor that would work with the bike. It was also a challenge to figure out a way to run all the wires.
“The bike wasn’t designed to have so many wires on it,” Payne said.
She also had to figure out a way to work with brakes on the bike.
“I definitely learned a lot about bike brake systems and how to adjust them,” she said.
Payne also needed to make sure the tricycle would run properly at all times, because walking home or carrying the bike isn’t an option for Holzheimer if the bike were to break down.
“It needed to be a really dependable machine for the rider,” she said.
The motorized tricycle has a throttle on one of the handlebars. Holzheimer can also pedal the machine, which assists the motor and is necessary at times, such as going uphill. The electric battery is nearly silent and only needs to be charged once every few weeks.
Because Payne hasn’t taken physics yet, she had to figure out things about gear ratios, which typically wouldn’t be covered until a student reaches an advanced-level engineering class, Canine said.
Getting that kind of experience during her freshman year will likely serve Payne well through the rest of college and into her career.
“Sometimes the learning through a project can be just as beneficial as traditional classroom learning,” Canine said.
Payne enjoyed the tricycle project and learned a huge amount in the process.
“Finding time to do it was the most difficult part,” she said.
Payne works about 30 hours a week at the Great Falls movie theater, in addition to being a full-time student at Great Falls College MSU.
Canine helped Payne find and order the parts she needed and helped her map out a timeline to keep her on schedule.
Payne worked on the project in the robotics shop at the Sun River Gym. Chuck Merja was there to help when she needed it, but he didn’t do much handholding.
“He tries not to get involved unless he absolutely has to,” Payne said. “He wants to allow students to work on their own innovative ideas and build problem solving skills.”
She was used to his method of teaching from being on the Sun River Robotics Team, also known as RedNek Robotics. The team is a three-time champion of the FIRST World Championship Competitions. Payne drew on a lot of her robotics knowledge that she gained in high school in order to complete the project.
Payne first got interested in joining the Sun River Robotics Team when the team traveled to the world competition during her sophomore year of high school.
“I had only left the state once when I was 13,” Payne said. “I wanted to travel. That’s what drew me into it.”
She got to do plenty traveling to competitions, but along the way she realized she also had an interest in building things and learning how they work.
“It turned into the satisfaction of thinking something up and making it,” Payne said.
She felt an enormous amount of satisfaction from completing the tricycle.
“I’m glad that she’s going to be able to enjoy that bicycle for a lot longer than she thought she’d be able to,” Payne said.
Holzheimer is also glad to still be out riding her bike.
“It has made such a difference in my life and outlook,” she said. “I am not sure Ilaya really understands how much of a difference it made in my life.”
Getting outside and being active is so important to Holzheimer’s mental health, but finding ways to be active is getting harder and harder for her.
“If not for Ilaya, I would not have the ability to get outside and have the positive outlook on life I currently have now,” Holzheimer said. “I am very grateful. I really hope Ilaya knows how much this has changed my life for the good.”
To learn more about the 1+3 Engineering Transfer Program or the research opportunities available at Great Falls College MSU, contact Admissions at 406-268-3700.
-Information provided by Great Falls College MSU