Support and tenacity drives student’s innovation forward

October 18, 2019

Patton Scholar Dylon DaSilva reflects on his zeal for building cars and how he was able to pursue his passion with the help of others

By Mohamad Jaafar, CASL senior

At 12, he attached the motor from a broken scooter to his pedal go-kart. At 14, he soldered a chip into his video game controller to unlock new features. At 16, he started his own business attaching LED lights to cars.

This Robotics Engineering student and Henry Patton Scholarship recipient's knack for innovation continues to grow. More recently, College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) senior Dylon DaSilva steered his focus towards building cars.

“Being awarded the Henry Patton Scholarship meant I didn’t overwork myself to pay off tuition,” he says. This form of support allowed him to go to school and not surrender other passions in his life like being involved in student organizations, being a student-athlete, and, of course, working on his car.

His interest in cars goes back to when he was a kid. “I would get a thrill driving go-karts as a kid...I love to go fast, and I’m good at it. If it has an engine on it, I’ll race it -- boats, cars, bikes, anything!”

While working at an automotive shop in high school, DaSilva picked up the basics of car repair. He had entertained the idea to build a car but was challenged by his dad, who didn’t think it would be a smart investment decision. But a friendship he made at his college freshmen orientation in August of 2015 put his passion for car-building in drive.

A few months later, DaSilva picked up a used 1990 Nissan 300zx NA. His parents didn’t know about it.

Before he had a chance to replace the motor as he had initially planned, he stumbled on an offer for the same vehicle model, converted to a Twin Turbo, meaning it could go faster.

He knew he needed to come clean to his dad to move forward with his automotive endeavor. After presenting his manila folder of recipients and spreadsheets, Dad was on board. His dad even negotiated the price of the vehicle down $1,400! DaSilva sold the old one, bought the new one, and paid back a loan from his dad for the second car.

He’s wrapping up his current build right now. For three years, he’s been adopting main parts from other cars to plant it in his own, while optimizing power and maintaining compatibility. The motor, transmission, differentials, driveshaft, and axles in his vehicle all come from different cars, sometimes making assembly difficult. 

“Being the guy that does it all -- it’s stressful...if something goes wrong, it’s on you. It’s a big risk you take,” DaSilva says when discussing some of the challenges he’s faced. Being the sole parent of the car, he feels fully responsible for its performance. He says he’s faced long stretches of months without touching his car when success felt impossible.

“You’re signing a contract to put yourself up for humiliation,” he says, admitting there have been many bumps in the road for him. “What was challenging about this project is that for my first ever build, I chose to Frankenstein parts that were never meant to go together.” But challenging moments triggered creative solutions. For example, he used hockey pucks as motor mounts so that he could get the perfect mounting height for the motor that he desired!

DaSilva compares his car-building project to his experience as an athlete at UM-Dearborn on the men’s soccer team. “I was a goalie and I knew we’ll never win a game if all I do is prevent goals,” he says. “I’ll never build a car if all I do is use the knowledge that I know.”

He says his buddy helping him weld car parts is the equivalent to him passing the ball to his teammates to score a goal. Success comes from support and collaboration with others. “There is always somebody out there who’s gone through it,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to take their advice.” He attends car forums and joined Facebook groups to network with other car-lovers, ask questions, exchange ideas, and advise others.

DaSilva is grateful for the support UM-Dearborn has offered him. “Being awarded the Henry Patton Scholarship meant I didn’t overwork myself to pay off tuition,” he says. This form of support allowed him to go to school and not surrender other passions in his life like being involved in student organizations, being a student-athlete, and, of course, working on his car.

“Success doesn’t happen by accident,” he says when talking about his car-building journey. Hard work, commitment, creativity, and support have contributed to his accomplishments.

Faculty members are impressed by his work. DaSilva says he’s heartened by CECS lecturer Kas Kasravi’s appreciation of his experimental approach to learning. He continues to encourage DaSilva by advising him that long-term success is about more than just a good GPA, but also about skills and knowledge acquired by learning through experience, DaSilva adds. Actually, Kasravi can relate to DaSilva because he also owned a 90’s Japanese car.

DaSilva also appreciates CECS Associate Dean and Professor Ghassan Kridli’s support of his campus-life involvement through the Formula SAE-Combustion team, a group that builds race cars for competitions. DaSilva is the driver and does electrical work for Formula. Much of what he learned through building a race-car with other students, he applies to his own car.

DaSilva is currently working as a co-op in Software Engineering at Yazaki North America. He helps design products that are coming into the market. He says job interviewers, including the one for his current position, are always floored by his car-building story, making him a strong candidate for jobs.

And as if DaSilva wasn’t busy enough, he continues to push his boundaries. He’s recently taken to the stage, attending acting classes last fall.

He says it was an impulse decision and a way to continue to explore new things. Channeling other characters not only made him more multi-dimensional but has polished his communication skills while increasing his confidence. He says it’s also his way of breaking the stereotype of what it means to be an engineer.

Today, his car is around 90-95% finished, and his drive to be ambitious continues. He’ll graduate in December 2019 and would like to move to Europe to work, study, play soccer or even dabble in some modeling. Somewhere down the line, he sees himself living on a sailboat exploring the seas.

“Nobody is a jack of all trades,” DaSilva says when talking about his experiences. But he comes pretty close.


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