Future Engineers Noodle Around

CATEGORY: Academics, K-12 Outreach

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 Crack!

One after another, spaghetti bridges collapsed at Johns Hopkins University’s Montgomery County Campus.

Students who built those bridges took the destruction in stride.

Approximately 35 students participated Friday in the annual spaghetti bridge demonstration at Johns Hopkins University’s Montgomery County Campus. (photo gallery) The ceremony marked the end of a month-long summer engineering program for high school students, called Engineering Innovation. It is offered by the Whiting School of Engineering’s Center for Educational Outreach.

Throughout the summer, students in the Johns Hopkins course learned about different types of engineering, including mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering and robotics. The idea is to give high school students a broad survey overview of engineering so they could decide whether they want to major in engineering in college. Many of them do: Since the program’s launch, more than 80 percent of participants have pursued careers in science and engineering.

The class days were half lecture, half lab, giving students plenty of hands-on opportunities to practice what they were learning.

The highlight of the course was the spaghetti bridge project. Students, working in teams, made bridges out of nothing more than dry spaghetti – other noodle shapes were allowed – and epoxy glue. They designed their bridges using sophisticated computer software, and then used the materials to turn their designs into reality.

Kilo by kilo, they added weights to their bridges during the spaghetti bridge ceremony.

The tension in the room was palpable, as students and their parents ooh-ed and ahh-ed as weights were added until the bridges shattered.

The winning bridge this year for the Rockville students held 62 pounds. A team from the Engineering Innovation site in Elkridge built a bridge that held approximately 90 pounds. (Elrkidge students visited the Montgomery County Campus for the ceremony.)

The winning Rockville students were Sriyuth Sagi, Anthony Garay and JJ Bravo. The winning Elkridge students were Artur Blomer, Mignot Solomon and Kathryn Roberts.

“I’m putting the weights on,” Anthony said. “My hands were trembling. I’m really surprised how much it held. “I’m really proud of this bridge. It was just a huge effort for all of us.”

The students said working together taught them the importance of teamwork and planning, in addition to engineering skills.

Getting students interested in engineering before they go to college is one of the goals of the course. The job market has a great demand for engineers, said instructor Muhammad Kehnemouyi. (Kehnemouyi  co-taught the class with Fred Katiraie.)

“Hopefully, classes like this are a step in the right direction,” Kehnemouyi said.

To qualify for the program, students need already to have taken algebra II, trigonometry and a lab science. During the summer class, students take quizzes, do lab reports, work together on group projects and take a final exam. Students who earn an A or B in the class receive three Johns Hopkins credits. This year, students taking the class at the Montgomery County Campus hailed from five states – Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut, Florida and Texas. Two students came from India.

Karen Borgsmiller, director of Engineering Innovation, said most students have the opportunity to take science and math classes in high school, but not all students are able to take engineering courses.

“We are training students to be critical thinkers so that even if they don’t decide to major in engineering, they receive skills that will serve them well in their future careers,” Borgsmiller said. “We ask them to solve complicated problems that are not found in text books and which often have more than one correct solution.”

Of JHU’s Engineering Innovation alumni, 93 percent said the course taught them how math and science apply to real-world problems. Approximately 86 percent said the course helped them understand what engineers do and how they think, and 80 percent said the course taught them how to learn on their own.

Approximately 90 percent said they would recommend the course to anyone interested in math or science.

Count Anthony among them.

“If you are interested in engineering,” Anthony said, “this is the course for you.”