Wide Range Student Makes Full Use of His Many Talents
Want to learn how to do search and rescue with the Civil Air Patrol? Chances are you'll have to train with Lt. Cash.
Want to hire a private pilot or produce a TV show? Solo pilot and broadcasting producer Ryan Cash might be your man.
Want to know what it's like to contribute to a research team at one of the United States' premier research facilities? That would be Cash you need to see.
"Sometimes I wish that I hadn't done so many things, that I could focus more on one thing," Cash says. "All these things that I am in, I enjoy, but they limit me from committing all my time to one activity. Other times, I am glad I've had so many experiences and opportunities."
In fact, Cash's list of accomplishments reads like the Who's Who of High School Students. Civil Air Patrol trainer, private pilot, varsity swimming, varsity volleyball, varsity track, varsity cross-country, broadcasting production head, National Honor Society president, Key Club member, Computer Club president and the list goes on.
On Oct. 25, USA Today ran a list of 288 names, all semi-finalists for the 2002-2003 Siemens Westinghouse Competition. The headline read: "Discover if you're Nobel Prize-winning material. Step 1: Find your name here."
Yes. Cash's name was there under Math, Science & Technology for a computer program and testing system that he designed for Jefferson Lab.
"My school put up some information about some summer internship programs, one at NASA and one at Jefferson Lab," Cash says. "Neither had a great deal of information about what you'd be doing other than you'd be interning and working with a mentor on some project. I applied and was accepted to both, and I knew I was going to be doing some work with NASA during the school year, so I chose Jefferson Lab."
Cash was placed with Amrit Yegneswaren, head of the Hall B instrumentation team. Yegneswaren didn't have time to create little pet projects for the students. There were actually things that he needed done. One of the instruments in the hall, for example, the drift chamber, requires very high voltage at a very specific level. The system that provides that high voltage has to go through numerous tests each month that generally take a Jefferson Lab technician about two work days per card to do by hand and there are about 12 cards.
"Amrit wanted to see if it was possible to automate the tests," Cash says. "No one really knew what that would look like or what that would entail, so we devised a plan."
The project had three parts: first — a software interface between a computer running the tests and the actual power supply; second — a hardware chassis that would hold all the instrumentation, measure the voltage and time to complete certain tasks, and basically do those things that would have had to be done by hand; finally — an interface between the hardware chassis and the testing computer, so values could be read.
"In our testing procedure, those interfaces controlled the power supply and read values from a hardware chassis to make sure each and every test was done and passed by the power supply," Cash says. "We also designed each separate part of that to be modular and basically blind to the other parts so that they could be expanded or rewritten at any time without the entire testing system being recreated."
Aside from design, Cash's main contribution was programming the software interface. By the time the internship ended, Jefferson Lab had a finished, working, high-voltage power supply testing system.
But that doesn't surprise anyone who knows Cash. The 17-year-old is one of those rare gems — a natural-born leader. Take the Civil Air Patrol, for example.
"I'm a field team member," Cash says. "Once they establish a command post, we are the ones who actually go out to search for whatever it is we are searching for. They are four-man teams and very mission-specific. Most of my missions, just because of the way I am involved in the program, are training other local cadets to be ready to go on those missions."
Most of the real missions that he's done have simply come from bumped aircraft beacons going off. But Cash isn't in it for the glory.
"I really enjoy the military atmosphere and most important the leadership opportunities," Cash says. "That is something that I don't get a lot of chance to do other places. Sometimes we'll be out there for two or three weeks, and I have been responsible for 40 or 50 cadets for that time. There is also model rocketry, and a major thing that I did was color guard for two years. That was probably one of my favorite activities."
Of course, Cash doesn't do anything half way.
The first year, Cash's guard team took first place at regional competition. The second year, when he was color guard commander, his team took second at nationals.
"The other thing that I really like about that program is the opportunities that I get," Cash says. "In school, I get to organize certain things, but Civil Air Patrol is like ROTC, plus search-and-rescue and flying. Through Civil Air Patrol, I've gotten my solo pilot's license, I've gotten flight time, and even when I was 12 and 13, I was flying."
Cash has his pilot's license through an Air Force Association scholarship.
"I think that one thing I've learned through all of my experiences is that you have to have lots of dedication and lots of motivation," Cash says. "It's not easy, but if you do, you can really get a lot of things done."
And that might come in handy for this young man who aspires to be in charge of research teams some day.
"My goal is really to end up building things, doing the math behind things, learning how things work," Cash says, "And because I enjoy the leadership so much, I'd really like to move up and lead engineering teams in some company. I think I'd love to do that, even if I wasn't getting paid for doing it, so I'll be glad to make a career of it."
Then he pauses slightly, reconsidering his bravado. "At least that is what I hope."