By Sara GoodeyonJune 27, 2014
TULSA, Okla. - On the day some Tulsa-area middle school students learned about building bridges at their summer science camp, they benefited from a visit by a structural engineer who designs bridges.
Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers structural engineer Christopher Strunk spoke to 23 sixth-to-eighth-graders at the Cascia Hall science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) summer camp about the real world perspective of civil and structural engineering.
"Today's theme is bridges, so we asked Chris to come and introduce the day and work with the kids a little bit on what a structural engineer does and the importance of building structures properly," said Laura Millspaugh, the Cascia Hall Upper School science teacher and director of the STEM program. "Today the kids will build and test straw structures for homework and then we will have a competition to see which structure can hold the most weight before it collapses."
Strunk's presentation focused on the development of structural engineering with an emphasis on bridge and tower design development. Strunk displayed a number of different bridges and discussed with the students the design elements and materials used to build the structures.
This is the second year Cascia Hall is hosting a STEM summer camp. The school added a robotics camp this year that focuses on the First Lego league robotics competition. It is part of an overall effort by the school to get students interested in these areas of study.
"We just want them to be enthusiastic and to take advantage of all these opportunities of camps, science in their classroom, and in the engineering clubs and events they attend, and to realize how cool science is and spark some interest so that they will hopefully pursue a STEM career," said Millspaugh. "What we have found is that only about 25 percent of kids that have the ability actually end up going into the professions. We are at a very low percentage and there's a high need for this. We feel like the younger we can get them interested and let them see how much fun it is, how much they can accomplish, and how talented they are, that they will end up pursuing these careers."
Millspaugh added that Cascia Hall hopes to grow the program to a point where they can eventually offer more camps and after school STEM activities.
Following the presentation, Strunk offered advice to the students on their straw bridges. They also knew that Strunk runs the Ping-Pong Ball Launcher competition at the annual Tulsa Engineering Challenge, so they asked him for feedback about their launchers. For the launcher competition, student teams design, build, and test a ping-pong ball launcher powered by a common household mousetrap that propels as many ping-pong balls as possible into a target within a set time limit.
"This is a good exercise for the kids because the directions are pretty simple, only one or two pages," said Strunk. "The objective is very straightforward for this competition. The kids can practice launching the ping-pong balls, either by building the wooden targets for the upper divisions, or by getting coffee cans for the younger divisions. It lets them experiment. They take the mousetrap and build the first one and it might not work, so they modify it and then try it again, and through that creative process it helps them learn basic physics, mathematics, and some constructability."
Presentations such as this are part of Tulsa District's STEM outreach program to encourage youngsters to pursue a career in one of the STEM fields. The district actively supports the Tulsa Alliance for Engineering and regularly accepts invitations to speak to students and groups about STEM professions.