Excited about education

Tech students host Engineering Day

LAKE LINDEN — “All the robots are going crazy!”

That news, delivered by an excited fourth-grader at Lake Linden-Hubbell Elementary School, followed dozens of near-simultaneous breakthroughs in robot assembly in just one of the activities at Friday’s Engineering Day.

This was the first year for the day, put on by Michigan Technological University students from the Society of Women Engineers and Engineering Ambassadors.

It began with SWE advisor Gretchen Hein talking with Jacqueline Johnson of Engineering Ambassadors about doing a joint engineering day.

“Then we started and the students took off with it,” she said. “The students have organized the activities, planned them, found the volunteers and everything.”

There were three hands-on engineering lessons in all, divided by grade level. Kindergarten and first-grade students made boats out of tin foil, then saw how many marbles they could fit into it before it sank. Second- and third-grade students made roller coasters.

Fourth and fifth grades made “Bouncy Bots” — a series circuit with a vibrating motor that causes a medicine cup to rattle on the desk.

Or more simply put, robots going crazy.

For the Tech students’ parts, it allows them to connect with the local community and get kids excited about engineering, Hein said. For the elementary students, it’s something different to do on a Friday morning. They learn concepts like electrical circuits and converting potential to kinetic energy years before they’d encounter it in school.

Even more importantly, they learn how engineering works.

“When I was down there, they were on their second iteration,” she said. “So they designed something, they realized ‘Oh, this really didn’t work the way I thought it would.’ And they’re modifying their designs, which is exactly the way the engineering design process is.”

For some students, it’s just a fun morning. For others, it points the way toward a career. Years ago Hein gave a talk about engineering to a fourth-grade class at Lake Linden. One of those students is now in SWE and majoring in biomedical engineering.

“It’s this long-term relationship with the schools and showing kids what’s fun and interesting,” she said.

Tech students liked helping out.

Engineering Ambassadors member Sam Jager remembered the mentors in the middle-school and high-school robotics programs that set him on his career path.

“So it really means a lot to me to be able to go into schools and help show kids that not only is this cool, but it’s something they can do,” he said. “Even if they’re not interested in pursuing a path, it’s something they can do as a hobby.”

The passion and excitement of the elementary students was fun for Natalie Hodge, a fourth-year electrical and computer engineering student in SWE.

“They asked a lot of questions that we sometimes don’t think about when you’re doing this all the time, like ‘Why does it work like that?'” she said.

Like any engineering situation, there were hurdles to overcome. But the day had been successful, students said.

“There’s been a little chaos, but that’s always going to happen,” said Robert Eckright, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student in Engineering Ambassadors. “Just survive, adapt, overcome and keep trucking along.”

The elementary students also enjoyed themselves.

“I like the experiments, and I like how the Bouncy Bots vibrate,” said fourth-grader Abraham Schmitt.

The goal is to host more Engineering Days at other schools, Hein said. With the end of the semester coming up, the Tech students won’t be able to fit more in this semester. However, two or three more could happen in the spring, with more after that.

Interested schools can contact Hein at glhein@mtu.edu.


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