Freshman Engineering Design Day prepares future ECE students
Kathan Bender tinkers with a bamboo water fountain created by his team for Freshman Engineering Design Day. The bubble-blowing machine created by Morgan Danyi and her team worked just fine except for one minor problem: It didn’t blow any bubbles. Some …
June 20, 2013 NC State ECE
The bubble-blowing machine created by Morgan Danyi and her team worked just fine except for one minor problem: It didn’t blow any bubbles.
Some parts spun too fast. The unstable platform wobbled. The bubble solution carried by spinning wands spilled before reaching the bubble-blowing fan. No solution, no bubbles.
Something had to be done. In two weeks, Danyi and her team planned to enter the machine into NC State’s 13th Annual Freshman Engineering Design Day.
“Being an engineer is all about trial and error,” Danyi, a freshman in chemical engineering, said after some last-minute tweaks made the machine competition-ready. “You identify the problem, brainstorm a way to resolve it and then create the finished product.”
Freshman Engineering Design Day brings together more than 1,300 students on more than 400 teams who have completed design projects assigned in the College’s introductory engineering course. Students huddle in groups for several weeks before the event, assembling hovercrafts, stitching together fabric buckets, molding concrete canoes, engineering nuclear reactor probes and tinkering with chain-reaction-driven Rube Goldberg machines.
All that work culminates in a day-long competition held in two packed rooms of students, faculty, judges and parents at NC State’s McKimmon Center on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Medals are awarded to the winners.
“Design Day is the defining first-semester experience for engineering students,” said Brian Koehler, the director of international engagement for the College who helps run the event. “It’s a great opportunity for our first-year engineers to tackle difficult engineering problems they’ll be facing during the next four years and ultimately in their professional careers.”
Each project comes with its own set of constraints. Students must not exceed a $40 spending limit, which encourages creativity and innovation by forcing them to reuse, borrow and find creative resources in places other than store shelves.
That spirit of frugality and reusability was on display at this year’s event, where students used toy cars, old plastic containers, aluminum foil, scrap wood, oil funnels, rubber bands, Pez dispensers, Tupperware containers and duct tape to build their entries.
Personalization is encouraged. A plastic watering can and holiday lights topped a flower-rimmed fountain. Arcade pinballs pummeled miniature Duke and UNC mascots. 18-inch concrete canoes – they can hold 10 pounds of marbles if built properly – were proudly painted NC State red.
For Danyi, the event turned out to be more than just a first-semester highlight. It gave her the chance to be a team leader and employ problem-solving skills when things didn’t go as planned.
After the bubble-blowing failure, the team regrouped and devised a new design. A battery-powered motor in an overturned toy truck spun a wheel that had been cut from the bottom of a five-gallon plastic bucket. Because the wheel was larger and heavier than the CD covers they had originally used, the spinning wands that cradled the bubble solution became much more rigid, allowing the machine to spit out bubbles by the dozens.
The relieved team had its entry.
“The experiences at Design Day are a very accurate taste of what engineers will have to deal with in the real world,” Danyi said.
Kathan Bender, a freshman majoring in civil engineering and environmental engineering, said the event improved his team’s time management skills and taught team members the value of advance planning.
The group entered the water fountain competition, in which students must create a device that propels water upward against gravity. Bender and his team decided to meet early in the semester to begin work.
The group built its waterfall from bamboo stalks. The stalks were tied together with twine and then set into a bamboo box filled with water and small stones. The water, propelled by an electric pump, was able to flow through a plastic tube encased in the central bamboo stalk, emerging out of the top and flowing back down into the box.
“After choosing the water fountain as our project, we had to decide on a theme and what parts of the project we wanted to assign to each person,” Bender said. “Then we started planning the layout, gathering materials and putting it all together. It helped me learn the necessity of getting everything drawn out in advance before you start working.”
Although Bender’s team didn’t receive a medal, he believes the group’s bamboo water fountain was a crowd-pleaser that “gained the popular vote” of visitors to their table. Danyi’s team didn’t medal either, but that didn’t take away from the event’s positive experiences.
“Figuring out how to put our strengths together and working through problems are going to be very valuable experiences for the future,” Danyi said. “Teamwork and effective communication are highly important for any group of people working together on a project.”
The skills learned through Design Day help prepare Danyi, Bender and hundreds of other students for the more challenging projects to come in their academic and professional careers.
“Design Day helps our first-year engineers continue developing their interdisciplinary teamwork, problem-solving and communication skills while creating something that works,” Koehler said. “With these skills, students can become leaders who solve challenging problems.”