Engineering Design Competition Offers Messy Fun For High Schoolers

Two Windham High School Students display their marshmallow covered hands.

Windham High School Students display their marshmallow covered hands.

Two Windham High School students walked to the restroom, their hands covered in gooey marshmallow fluff.

“We kind of made paste,” one of the students said.

The students were making marshmallow bridges on UConn’s campus on May 25 for the 6th Annual GK-12 Engineering Design Competition. Ten technical high schools competed in short engineering competitions designed to expose students to the STEM fields.

The bridges were one of three competitions at the event, along with a paper airplane distance competition and a downhill car race that had to protect an egg from a collision into a solid wall. Students were given the competition guidelines and an hour to build their project. The airplanes were judged on the distance they flew and the bridges had to support a cup that was filled with chocolate until it sagged an inch. The egg car competition was based on keeping the egg safe, completing the test ramp in a fast manner and minimizing the resources used in construction.

Many of the designs were creative.  One bridge was basically a log of toothpicks joined with smashed marshmallows. One of the faster cars used CDs as wheels.


Students prepare to test their paper airplane designs.

The Windham teens were joined by students from E.C. Goodwin Technical High School, Norwich Technical High School, Wolcott High School, Howell Cheney Technical High School, Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School, A.I. Prince Technical High School, Vinal Technical High School, H.H. Ellis Technical High School and the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology.

 “It’s fun for the kids. Just a great experience for them, getting this access to UConn,” said Fred DePietro, the department head of electronics technology at Ellis Tech. George Pappas, the department head of Electrical at Ellis, agreed with his colleague.

“Some of these kids are coming to a college campus for the first time. They see people going about their day and it normalizes college for them. They see that it’s just another place. It just does wonders for them,” Pappas said.

gk12 car ramp

Students prepare to run their cars down the test track.

The Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) program is an innovative educational program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. It provides graduate students to high school science classrooms as a teaching resource, for preparation and for training activities.

Stephanie Bendtsen (Biomedical Engineering ’12) is a GK-12 Fellow and Ph.D. student in materials science. She has worked with Ellis Tech students for two years.

“In the classroom, we build a lot of things; bridges, catapults, egg drops. We focus on hands on activities. We get the students to design prototypes and build things- we really try to bring engineering and STEM topics into the classroom in a hands on way,” Bendtsen said.

wolcott team

The Wolcott Team after winning first place overall, with UConn Engineering Graduate Outreach Manager Aida Ghiaei on the far right.

The Wolcott Technical High School Team took first place overall. Grasso Technical High School came in second, and The Academy of Engineering and Green Technology came in third.

Teams also received certificates for most impactful team (Windham), most economic team (Goodwin), best presentation (Wolcott), most creative (Grasso), best teamwork (Vinal), best spirit (Ellis) and best engineering (Academy of Engineering and Green Technology).

For a photo gallery of the event, Click Here.

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