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Middle school students explore engineering concepts at Penn State Fayette

12/4/2007 —
Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus played host to some 140 middle school students from across the area Dec. 3 for its 12th Annual E-Days event. First-year Penn State Fayette engineering students, under the direction of Professor Nate Bohna, developed a variety of hands-on activities for the middle school students to try out under the theme “Structuring Your Future.”

“This event just gets better every year. For our college students, it is their first team project in Engineering Design—an opportunity to build something new on their own time with very few constraints,” said Professor Bohna. He also noted that after the middle school students left, the college students took some extra time to try each others’ projects. “I think they learned as much as their guests did!” said Bohna.

Associate Professor of Engineering Dave Meredith said the event is geared to generate interest in engineering among the youngsters. “The middle school students get a great hands-on experience with a lot of variety. Our hope is that through experiences like this, these students will consider careers related to math and science. I was especially glad to see more females willing to jump into the activities. We always need more females in engineering.” said Meredith.

Some of the activities and engineering principles that were explored included building balloon towers to learn about stability, Rockwell Hardness Testing to learn about the strength of various materials, Popsicle stick bridge building to learn about weight-bearing structures, and Lincoln Log tower building to learn about earthquake strength. They also learned that four egg shells are strong enough to support a 12 inch high stack of textbooks before crushing. For fun—and learning—was the popular “cooking” of mini marshmallows in liquid nitrogen (at 250-degrees below zero Fahrenheit) and the Van der Graff generator.

Groups of students also participated in a number of on- and off-site tours, including the Coal & Coke Heritage Center, the computer lab, BAE Systems, and the Coolspring Stone Quarry.

Participating schools were: Brownsville Area Middle School, Connellsville West Junior High, Laurel Highlands Junior High, St. John the Evangelist School, and Uniontown’s three middle schools, A.J. McMullen, Benjamin Franklin and Lafayette.

From St. John the Evangelist, student Emma Simon (left) builds Lincoln Log towers to learn about earthquake stability, as (continuing from left) fellow 7th and 8th grade students Ariel Garofalo, Santo Piccolomini, Kevin Richardson and Mason Tressler look on.

Sixth-grade students Amy Cherban (left) and Miele Diggs, from Brownsville Area Middle School, construct a Popsicle stick bridge to learn how some structures can bear more weight than others.

To learn about teamwork and stability, Laurel Highlands Middle School students Alex Jester (left) and Kris Sabatini build a balloon tower.

Elizabeth Cooper, from Laurel Highlands Middle School, learns about static electricity as she grasps the Van der Graff generator, while classmates Jesse Laverdiere (center) and Maria Sharpe look on.

Penn State Fayette engineering student Shauna Couch conducts the Rockwell Hardness Test on a variety of objects to demonstrate how some materials are harder or softer than others.

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