Engineering basics

Students learn value of skills, creativity, trial & error

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Bryar Powell, a junior at Warren High School, and Andrew Curtis Le, a Belpre High School junior, watch as the balloon device they made shoots down the floor of an engineering classroom at Washington State Community College Thursday. The two were among about three dozen high school students who attended Discover Engineering, a day-long event organized by Building Bridges to Careers to expose students with an interest in engineering to the profession.

Andrew Curtis Le and Bryar Powell crouched on the concrete floor of the classroom and watched intently as they released the balloon.

It zipped about two feet before arcing into the baseboard. But after adjusting the straw and a construction-paper rudder through a few more tries, the breath-propelled bag shot down the floor in a straighter trajectory for about 18 feet.

“It’s right out of the engineering books,” said John Burgardt, one of the college engineering faculty. “It requires skill, creativity, problem solving, trial and error.”

The two high school juniors, Le from Belpre and Powell from Warren, were testing engineering propulsion theory at Discover Engineering, held Thursday morning at Washington State Community College. Down the hall, another group of students under the direction of David Legg of DWL Design, a Marietta engineering firm, was working with pipecleaners, Styrofoam cups, straws and a 3-D printer to see who could create the best device for creating the maximum number of bubbles from a fixed amount of soapy water, an exercise called “rapid prototyping.”

“Working as engineers, you will be working for a company, and the customers will tell you what they want,” he said. “And what they want is an end product.”

The 37 students who attended Discover Engineering were offered six sessions, lunch and presentations on business speaking and job shadowing. Tonya Davis, the agency and event coordinator for Building Bridges to Careers, said the students came from Caldwell, Belpre, Wood County Christian, Marietta, Waterford, Warren and Frontier high schools. On hand were five engineers to help the students and answer questions, she said.

“Last year, the Burgess & Niple engineering firm wanted to do something for Engineering Week,” she said. “It was our first year for it, and we had about 25 students.”

The session was held in the Armory, but because of limited space there was a waiting list, she said, so this year a larger venue — the college — was arranged.

Craig Richards is a project engineer for the Burgess & Niple office in Parkersburg.

“We’re on board to promote it,” he said. “It used to be a big event 25 years ago, there would be 100 or more students attending. We’d like to build it back up, try to attract more people into the engineering profession.”

He said there are shortages of new graduates in some of the engineering fields, particularly civil and electrical engineers.

“We’re reaching out to high schoolers to encourage them to go through college engineering programs,” he said. The firm brings in interns from Ohio University and The Ohio State University, he said.

Students and engineers mingled over lunch in the WSCC cavernous auto shop, sitting at fold-up tables and surrounded by disassembled engines, a big red tractor-trailer cab looming in the background.

Cole Fairbanks, a junior at Warren High School, said he’s pursuing a career in either civil or mechanical engineering.

“I came here to learn more about the opportunities in engineering,” he said. “You can be creative and invent your own things, and I love math.”

Rawlin Barber, a junior at Belpre High School, said he was one of the students nominated by teachers to attend the event.

“I knew I wanted to go to it,” he said, adding that he favors mechanical engineering and intends to take it at Ohio University.

“I like taking things apart and putting them back together, like Lego,” he said.



¯ Marks Engineers Week, Feb. 18-24, established as the third week in February by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951.

¯ Organized by Building Bridges to Careers, engineering firms and Washington State Community College.

¯ Brought 37 high school students from Washington County and Caldwell school districts to participate in engineering demonstrations, meet professional engineers and engineering instructors at Washington State Community College.