HOUGHTON - After being cooped up inside classrooms during a long winter, students from six Upper Peninsula high schools converged at Michigan Technological University to test their designs during the 23rd annual Engineering Olympics Tuesday. Teams of students competed in six events - four primary competitions for which they were able to prepare ahead of time and two spontaneous on-site challenges - to determine a winner.
"Ultimately they came here to compete, to test, to see how well they match up with other students from across the U.P. It's been a success," said Cody Kangas, associate director at the center for pre-college outreach at Michigan Tech. "The students are engaged, they're having a good time and they're doing very well, comparatively to past years. It's been going very well."
The four primary competitions were the Mackintooth Bridge, a mousetrap vehicle, a tennis ball dispenser and trebuchet free throw shooter.
Meagan Stilp/Daily Mining Gazette
Students from six high schools across the Upper Peninsula competed in the 23rd annual Engineering Olympics at Michigan Technological University Tuesday. Above, teams work to create a balloon powered vehicle out of provided materials during one on-site challenge.
The students worked on those structures in advance of the competition, often in conjunction with a class.
At Lake Linden-Hubbell, which took second place overall in the competition, Clint Heikkila's students worked on the designs as part of their physics class.
"We make it a part of our class where we spend a lot of time in the lab and they come up with a design and basically build it," Heikkila said.
Heikkila has brought students to many Engineering Olympics events over the years and said he only receives positive feedback.
In addition to getting out of the classroom, he said the students like applying the concepts they learn in class to a physical project.
"It gets us away from the book," he said. "I get seniors who, towards the end of their senior year, instead of fighting senioritis I get them coming in extra hours to do physics."
A team of five Lake Linden students took first place in one of the two on-site challenges, which force participants to think and adjust quickly.
"Basically they're challenges that they have no idea what they are until they get here. They show up and have teams and they have to think and adapt on the go to figure it out," Kangas explained.
In the first on-site competition, the students received a bag of materials including notecards, rubber bands, popsicle sticks, sucker sticks, pipe cleaners and string and were told to build the highest structure possible that could also support a tennis ball.
The winning Lake Linden team built a structure that, at 45.5 inches high, tied with a Menominee team's design, but since it was lighter took first place.
"We had to build a structure out of whatever materials they gave us in a bag, and whoever's was tallest and could balance a tennis ball on top won. So we kind of designed ours from the Eiffel Tower," said Erin Gast, Lake Linden team member.
"First we had a design and it didn't work, so we had to scrap that and come up with something else," added Cole Beauchamp.
Next year's Engineering Olympics may be bigger and better than before thanks to a grant from the Michigan Space Grant Consortium.
"A big challenge in today's climate is funding for them to get here. As a result of that we just were given an award from the Michigan Space Grant Consortium to put this event on next year to help subsidize costs with things. We're going to expand the event, make it more dynamic and infuse some more enthusiasm into it," Kangas said.
"We're actually going to take it on the road - we're looking at partnering with potentially Lake Superior State and going across the U.P. and putting an event on there as well."