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Olson: Minivan driver meets Sycamore’s future concept car designer

Dylan Schmidt, an 18-year-old senior at Sycamore High School, recently won a $24,000 scholarship from Ford for taking second place out of more than 200 entries in an automobile design competition called “Designing for the Future.”
Dylan Schmidt, an 18-year-old senior at Sycamore High School, recently won a $24,000 scholarship from Ford for taking second place out of more than 200 entries in an automobile design competition called “Designing for the Future.”

Dylan Schmidt plans to turn his love of cars into a career, and he’s going to get a lot of help from the Ford Motor Co.

Schmidt, an 18-year-old senior at Sycamore High School, recently won a $24,000 scholarship from Ford for taking second place out of more than 200 entries in an automobile design competition called “Designing for the Future.”

Schmidt’s prize-winning entry was a hand-drawn sketch he made of a concept car targeted at affluent 20- to 30-year-olds. He called it the 2025 Lincoln Obsidian.

“I’m a total gearhead,” Schmidt said. “Like ‘Top Gear.’ Best show ever.”

Schmidt, who takes physics and calculus classes at Kishwaukee College’s Engineering-Math-Science Academy, will be attending Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., in the fall. He plans to study transportation design.

“The program’s one of the best in the country, “ Schmidt said. “They have 100 percent [graduate job] placement, they’re very selective. The professor told me they let in like 12 kids a year.”

Schmidt was admitted to the school in October and found out about the contest through the university, which cosponsors it along with Ford. It was a project right up Schmidt’s alley – he’s sketched thousands of vehicle designs in his young life, ever since he first started playing street racing video games on his first PlayStation.

Schmidt learned of the project about a month in advance, and said the timing of the deadline couldn’t have been worse.

“It was really difficult because I was studying for my calculus and physics finals at the same time,” he said. “The project was actually due the day of my calculus final. That was ridiculous.”

Yep, that’s college for you.

Schmidt, who considers the 17-foot 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II to be one of the coolest cars Lincoln ever made, designed a concept car that followed his basic premise that “you can design a car with a wide wheelbase that’s a two-door and it will almost always look good.”

He called the vehicle “obsidian” after both the color, and the fact that it’s a strong material that Native Americans used to create arrowheads and spear blades. He chose the Lincoln badge because that line doesn’t generally appeal to people in the 20- to 30-year-old demographic.

Unlike most of his competitors, Schmidt drew his entry freehand, again and again until it was styled just right. He received his award Jan. 13 in Detroit.

In addition to the scholarship from Ford, Schmidt also will receive a $10,000-a-year scholarship from Lawrence for his academic standing, as well as $6,000 a year for his portfolio.

In the years to come, his handiwork could be shaping the vehicles we drive. Or the concept cars at the auto show. Good luck to him.

• • • 

Bit my tongue: During our conversation, Schmidt told me he was interested in designing most any kind of vehicle except – shocker – minivans.

If there’s one thing anyone who’s ever been young knows, it’s that minivans aren’t cool. They’re Steve Urkel on wheels.

I was never going to own one myself. But they’re just so … handy. You can pile all manner of things into them. You can take the family on a long roadtrip, or just stick the kids in the third-row seat to get some separation.

The list goes on.

I know people still fighting the good fight, still trying to hold out against the siren call of the minivan. I see you guys driving around in new-age station wagons and SUVs, trying to be hip, get better gas mileage and not turn into your parents.

But if you have two or more children and want to take them anywhere, the minivan is king.

You think we’d be driving around in them if that wasn’t true?

What guys like me need are guys like Schmidt to design a minivan that looks cool. Or is that not possible?

• • • 

Elect a clerk: It’s good to see that the office of DeKalb city clerk finally generated some interest.

No one filed to run for the position in time to get their name on the ballot, but four people (Leonard LeGrand, Liz Peerboom, Lynn Fazekas and former Clerk Steve Kapitan) are running as write-in candidates.

The DeKalb City Council would have preferred no one run for the position ever again. They’ve wanted it to become an appointed job, but the voters overwhelmingly said no in November.

The city council has lowered the pay for the clerk from $30,000 a year to $5,000 and gave most of the clerking duties to an assistant.

The citizens are the ones with the right idea on this one, though. The argument for keeping the clerk position is simple – the city clerk keeps all city records, and is the freedom of information officer for the city.

If that person is elected, they are accountable to voters. If they’re appointed, they are accountable to whichever city employee happens to be their boss.

An independent clerk who is accountable to the public will be far less likely to seek to conceal potentially embarrassing or unflattering public records than someone who could lose their job if they angered they wrong person on the city staff.

I’m not suggesting that anyone currently working at City Hall would pressure a subordinate not to release certain information.

But this is the kind of change that, once made, tends not to be reversed.

So it’s good that the city is sticking with an elected clerk.

The winning candidate must be a force for government transparency and accountability. Who will be? We’ll try to get to the bottom of that before it’s time to vote.

• • •

Good sports: The Associated Press Sports Editors annual newspaper contest is a tough one.

Sports writers and editors from around the country enter their best work in the various categories; this year, the Daily Chronicle’s sports staff won seven Top 10 awards.

Congratulations to all of the winners, who included sports writers Steve Nitz and Anthony Zilis and web producer John Sahly. Sports editor Ross Jacobson’s team also earned recognition for having one of the Top 10 special sections among newspapers with less than 30,000 circulation for the special section on Northern Illinois University’s trip to the Orange Bowl.

It’s great to see the Daily Chronicle’s staff named alongside some of the country’s other top small newspapers.

Let’s hope 2013 turns out to be a great sports year and those guys stay busy.

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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