Reed Forehand ‘15 came to Tampa Prep as a freshman. Though engineering was his passion, he did not shy away from unexpected opportunities that popped up at school because, to Forehand, engineering is a puzzle.
“That’s kind of what drew me to it,” he says. “It’s figuring out the best solution for any given problem. When you look at engineering as a whole, it’s not just solving one thing over and over again. It’s analyzing every situation, and every situation has some engineering components.”
He found this to be true as he rowed with the crew team for several years, was active in theater all four years, and--since he plays six instruments--he and Josh Kravitz ‘14 even made a makeshift digital recording studio in the band room one year. He figured out solutions and solved puzzles as he participated in student government for two years, became a student in the inaugural class of the School’s STEM Concentration and founded the Chess Club with Mr. Brian Williams whom, he says, “was someone who always looked out for me and made sure I was engaged. He saw that I loved physics, which is what he taught, and I could go to his classroom during lunch and talk about any and everything with him. It was nice to have him as a mentor.”
In addition to having that solid mentor--a critical component to the success of any student--joining the STEM Concentration had an immense impact on Forehand’s professional trajectory. Tampa Prep currently offers Academic Concentrations in the Arts, Global Studies, Humanities and STEM. Students select classes from a body of relevant coursework that coincides with each interdisciplinary focus, and complete additional tasks within their concentration. Academic Concentrations rival college-level curricula, and for many alumni, the signature experience has a profound impact on their academic and professional careers after Tampa Prep.
“I knew I wanted to be an engineer, but the [STEM] Concentration gave me the tools to succeed within engineering,” he says. “Coming into college already knowing the skills I had learned [at Tampa Prep] put me so far ahead of my peers at the University of Central Florida. I was able to jump into it rather than ease into it.”
For the last class in Tampa Prep’s STEM Concentration sequence, Forehand remembers “we had to work together in groups and design a product, CAD it all out, demonstrate a pitch and do a report on it. It was a good base for developing presentation skills and learning how to communicate technical concepts to a non-technical audience. That project sticks out to me because almost everything I’ve done in college and the real world is that.”
The capstone project for Forehand’s engineering undergraduate degree, for instance, followed a similar format. He was the team lead on that project, and admits it was trial by fire.
“It taught me so much about leadership,” he says. “Our project was to build an 8-foot-wingspan plane that could carry a 2kg weight. It had to do a certain number of laps. There were six of us on that team. While we knew the theory behind it, none of us had built something on that scale or ever run RC planes.”
The team went through a series of iterations. “Let’s try this,” revealed “that's not gonna work,” then “these motors aren’t strong enough, so let’s try this,” and finally “we’re not getting enough force to get off the ground.” Their plane was never able to take off because of some technical issues.
“To go through an entire year capstone class to have it not work was soul crushing,” he says. “It was hard in the moment and disappointing when things don’t work out, but that’s going to happen a lot, and you’ve got to just try harder. Plus, now you know more for the future.” That growth mindset, one he admits he developed at Tampa Prep, was solid footing for the path toward finally completing his difficult degree. And it paid off.
While at UCF, in 2017 Forehand landed an internship as a mechanical design engineer at Kennedy Space Center for subcontractor Jacobs Engineering Group, which was awarded a contract for all ground support equipment. He continues to intern there while he works through graduate school.
“Anything needed for the upcoming SLS rocket that doesn’t take off with the rocket--the stands that hold it, the pipes that feed in the fuel, miscellaneous platforms--all of that is what I help design,” he says. While exciting, this position will soon take a backseat to his next big venture: going back to grad school at UCF to get his Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering.
As he moves from undergrad to grad school and starts getting into research, he admits the fear of failure is real. However, Forehand views each new challenge as an opportunity, and never lets fear take over because, he says, you never know where life may lead you. “There was so much of my experience at Tampa Prep that came from having random opportunities and rolling with them. Had I never done theater, I would never have been pushed by some people in that group to do Student Government, and then I wouldn’t have spoken in front of the student body to gain public speaking skills.”
He was called to draw on those speaking and presentation skills last year when Forehand’s first research paper on Lagrangian Numerical Analysis of Liquid Jet in Subsonic Crossflow was accepted to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) SciTech Forum, one of the largest aerospace conferences in the world.
During the week of January 6, 2020, he presented that research in front of thousands of people who attended that conference. “It was terrifying but also really fulfilling,” he says. “That paper got published, so now I’m also a published author, which adds on to that feeling of wonder.”
With so many amazing professional experiences already under his belt, what does Forehand foresee for his post-Ph.D. future? “The dream is to spend 10 years in industry working for SpaceX or one of those companies doing R&D (research and development) for them and then transition into being a professor. That’s my late-life end game, teaching at a university and doing research.”
It may seem as though this young man has life all wrapped up and figured out. He will even tell you he’s an over-planner. “It’s my fatal flaw. There’s not a whole lot that I jump into without thinking.” However, while it’s true that engineers analyze every situation, the best ones, Forehand has discovered, know that being a planner and being opportunistic are not mutually exclusive.
When asked the one piece of advice he’d offer to current and future Terrapins, his answer was something that has clearly served him well so far, and will no doubt serve him in the future: “Don’t be afraid to take the opportunities that present themselves.”