Since the beginning of this academic year, Hope College tennis co-captain Anna Garcia has been working hard with her team, practicing with them at least 10 hours a week, making adjustments to game plans, pushing each other toward improvement, all in the pursuit of a championship.
And here’s the thing: she hasn’t swung her tennis racket once to do it.
Have no fear or doubt; Garcia is indeed still blasting passing shots on Hope’s tennis courts in her quest to lead the Flying Dutch toward their second MIAA title in a row and fourth in five years. In addition though, the senior mechanical engineering major is also a member of a four-person design team that is blueprinting, adjusting, building, adjusting some more, and then finally operating a miniature transporter that will compete against other transporters to navigate across a multi-terrain course in order to deliver a payload in the shortest amount of time using the least amount of energy.
The creation of this remote-controlled machine by Garcia and her three teammates is a yearlong, major-culminating project, one that could have future application in the design of vehicles needed to aid areas hit by natural disasters.
Garcia’s group, as well as two others at Hope, are following competitive rules and guidelines set forth by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) that keep the transporting playing field level, even when the actual one – strewn with sand, water and elevation change – is not. In April, the three navigating robots will go head-to-head to determine Hope’s ASME winner.
“We’re just now working on the first prototype,” exclaims Garcia, visibly delighted to discuss her design team’s progress. “We spent the entire fall semester doing CAD (computer-aided design) drawings and just talking about the transporter. Now I’m excited to get started on the actual machine… Even though we came up with seven different designs, we decided on a tri-wheel design because we think the biggest obstacle on the track will be the elevation point at the end.”
That kind of strategizing seems to come naturally to Anna Garcia the student as well as Anna Garcia the athlete. She excels in math, science and analytics as much as in first-serve percentage, overhead smashes and baseline footwork. Achieving a 3.52 GPA in a rigorous major while playing a sport year-round has required that Garcia employ the crossover academic-athletic skills of complementary teamwork, strong work ethic, and savvy time management as adeptly as she hits a cross-court winner or configures as torque ratio.
“Anna has a unique skill set,” says Dr. Roger Veldman, professor of engineering and Garcia’s advisor. “She has a very positive personality, she works really hard, she is both intense and committed, but she also has a lot of poise and self-confidence… Anna is a powerhouse in the classroom, and I have to believe she’s the same way on the court, too.”
Veldman is right. She is. Though slight of frame, Garcia is an oversized competitor.
Playing anywhere her team needs has needed her, mostly between second and fourth singles over the lobbed arc of her Hope career, Garcia has amassed a 47-18 record. In doubles, she is 49-21. That’s an impressive 71 percent winning percentage.
The academic and competitive examples of her sisters – Christine ‘08 and Katherine ’11 who also played tennis for Hope – as well as the unflagging credo of her parents “to always work hard and do your best” have admittedly guided Garcia. Yet to be fair, she must be given most of the credit for committing to her own scholarly and sporting directions. After all, any woman who pursues the hard sciences, anyone who wins the MIAA Sue Little Award for displaying outstanding sportsmanship as a junior has been making ethical and trendsetting decisions of her own making for quite some time.
“But it’s been great and special to have my family impress their lessons upon me throughout my life,” affirms Garcia, a graduate of Battle Creek Lakeview.
With her final tennis season now underway, Garcia – a calculus tutor, a pianist who seeks out a practice room on campus occasionally, and an adventurer who plans to live and work in Alaska this summer before full-time, workaday, real-world reality hits in the fall – envisions more court wins and academic successes in her last semester at Hope. Two more championships – one in the MIAA and one in the ASME – would be great, too.