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Summer Program Encourages Engineering Students to Build, Wreck Bridges

By Kevin O'Rouke
Germantown Pulse

Summer programs for high school students are often about building bridges to the future, making connections that will help at a future time in your career. These programs often don’t involve destroying those bridges. The Engineering Innovation program at Johns Hopkins ends with bridges in pieces and a mess on the floor.

A number of Northwest High School students were among the 36 students that took part in this program at John Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus this summer, which teaches students to use complex engineering principals to build a model bridge using only spaghetti and glue. The program ends with the students testing how much weight their bridge can hold, by attaching weights to the bridge until it is destroyed.

The program is for high school juniors and seniors looking to get a jump on their careers through Engineering Innovation, a program offered by the JHU Whiting School of Engineering at several locations nationwide including the MoCo campus in Rockville.

“I signed up to learn about engineering,” said Nathaniel Ferlic, a rising senior at Northwest High School. “When I arrived, I was kind of skeptical, but it ended up actually being really rigorous. It was a really good determiner of if I wanted to be an engineer or not.”

The four-week college-level class teaches students complex engineering principles. Students are taught to think, and problem solve like engineers while learning about mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering and robotics.

“Overall, my experience was great,” said Ferlic. “I learned some of the basics of what being an engineer was, such as the logic circuits that we did for electrical engineering, really stood out for me so I think I want to look more into becoming an electrical engineer I had been thinking mechanical, but now I am leaning more toward electrical engineering.”

This summer the class was taught by Sinuhe Gutierrez, a physics teacher at Northwest High School in Germantown.

The spaghetti bridge project allows students, working in teams of three, to make bridges out of nothing more than dry spaghetti and epoxy glue. Each team could use no more than a half pound of spaghetti. The bridge could not exceed 25 centimeters in height and could weight no more than 250 grams. Bridges that were too tall or weighed more were accessed a penalty.

“I heard about this program at school,” said, Matthew Yoon, a rising junior at Northwest High School. “A representative came to my engineering class to speak about it. I was interested in the program and what it would offer me. During the program, I have learned more about both basic engineering and more advanced engineering techniques that I didn’t know before.”

While Northwest students Yoon and Ferlic were not the same bridge-building team, their fates were similar. Their teams were defeated by a team of students at Poolesville High School. Emily Yin, Tim McIntyre, and Kartik Krishnan built the winning bridge among Montgomery County students. Their bridge held approximately 35 pounds. The record stands at 132 pounds.

“Some time ago, Johns Hopkins did a survey of income freshman which asked where did you hear about engineering,” Muhammad Kehnemouyi, an Engineering Innovation instructor for Johns Hopkins University and dean of science, engineering and technology at Montgomery College told the participants at the bridge ceremony which was held Friday, July 24 in Rockville. “95 percent of students said friend, neighbor, uncle and just five percent said teachers and counselors. That raised a flag of concern. The thought was that if we could create a program that could be trickled down to high schools that could tell the students about the excitement, challenges and innovation that goes with the wonderful field of engineering.”

Engineering Innovation first was offered at the Montgomery County Campus in 2001.  Since 2006, the Whiting School of Engineering has offered the course nationally. More than 3,000 students have taken the class since 2006. Of Engineering Innovation alumni, 94 percent said the course taught them how math and science apply to real-world problems.


CATEGORY: Academics, K-12 Outreach, In The Community