This is rocket science
It was a sunny July afternoon and a crowd had gathered on the field at Peoria Stadium in anticipation of the day’s big event. High school students with their game faces on moved quickly about making last minute preparations. This competition, however, was very different from what happens on a typical afternoon at the stadium. On this day, the stadium was host not to a football or soccer game, but a rocket launch competition.
The competition was the culminating event of a week-long program in which Bradley University and Caterpillar Inc. joined forces to host the first Science, Technology and Engineering Preview Summer Camp (STEPS) in collaboration with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation (SME/EF) in July 2003. The program builds on Caterpillar’s Destination Technology program that aims to spark interest among middle school students, especially females and minorities, in engineering and computer/information technology careers. Bradley faculty members lend their expertise to expand the SME/EF curriculum initiatives for boys and girls who are in the 9th and 10th grades to expose them to opportunities for technical careers early enough to influence their choices of math, science and technical courses in high school.
“We recognize the importance of continuous learning and remain committed to supporting educational efforts that will help future members of the workforce succeed as we move toward a knowledge economy,” said Sherril West, the recently retired vice president of Caterpillar’s Technical Services Division and president of SME/EF. “In addition to the scientific and engineering concepts, one of the important elements of the program is teaching ‘soft skills’ like teamwork and active problem solving,” she added. “Our goal is to help develop a diverse group of well-rounded students who are prepared to succeed in the workforce of the future.”
This group of students focused on the science of rocketry spending each day completing hands-on activities to design, manufacture, and launch a rocket. Bradley engineering and technology professors, local middle school educators, and a group of Caterpillar engineers were their teachers, role models, and mentors. The students went into Bradley’s engineering laboratories to learn techniques such as rapid prototyping, foundry processes, injection molding, robotics, wind tunnel experiments, flight simulation, and marketing activities.
When the students took the field on the final day of camp, their objective was to score the equivalent of a field goal with their personally designed rockets. Having learned to measure the thrust, drag, and weight of their rockets, each had to calculate the trajectory of the flight their ship would take. This required them to predict from what yard line and at what angle the individual launch must start. The students made their calculations using software written specifically for the program by Dr. Martin Morris, Dr. Richard Deller, and Dr. Julie Reyer.*
“What we do isn’t magic,” said Dr. Morris. “As engineers, we use math and science to predict how nature is going to work. In the STEPS program we are building engineering students for tomorrow. My goal is to show them they must study and understand math and science to be prepared to go into engineering.”
Through the STEPS experience, students are discovering interests that may lead them to a future in a science, technology, or engineering career, while learning that rocket science is much like child’s play.
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