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Career Day Exposes Engineering Options to Students
02.23.12
 
By: Jim Hodges

They came from Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg and James City and York counties. High school juniors and seniors, all of them had demonstrated capability in science, technology, engineering and math through classroom performance, and some of them had said they wanted to be engineers.

Career Day.
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From left to right: Homeschool student Christian Romanelli and Menchville High School student Bryon Dean work together on an engineering challenge. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith.

Career Day.
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High school students from Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg and James City and York County visited NASA Langley to learn more about careers in engineering. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith.

Career Day.
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NASA Langley's Marlyn Andino teaches students an engineering discipline. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith.

What kind, most couldn't tell you.

It's why NASA Langley teamed with Newport News Shipbuilding and the Peninsula Engineers Council on Thursday's Career Day at the Reid Conference Center.

The genesis is Engineers Week and Career Day is old. But the format is new.

"NASA came to us and said they wanted to change it because it wasn't engaging the students as much," said Jennifer McClain, who works in education outreach with Newport News Shipbuilding. "So we got together to think about a new strategy to make it more exciting and more fun, more engaging for the students."

From those planning sessions came a format in which 10 volunteers from the shipbuilders and 10 from Langley sat at 20 tables around the room at Reid. Each talked for 15 minutes about a different engineering discipline.

More than 200 students were given lanyards with cards that directed them to tables for 15-minute sessions, so that each student was exposed to four engineering disciplines.

At NASA tables, Luther Jenkins talked of aerospace engineering and the planes of tomorrow, while 10 students listened.

"How would you like to sit in a plane without windows and not be able to see outside?" he asked, citing one of the problems with acceptance of a Langley-designed blended-wing body that would replace more conventional "tube-and-wing" designs and offer more efficient and economical air travel.

"Think about taking off from here and flying to California, working, then flying home the same day," Jenkins offered as an example of supersonic air travel in the future. "Think of flying to Japan in three hours."

The point was made: The students sitting around him, now ages 16-18, would be the ones to finish those designs and take those trips.

John Gallaborn, a naval architect at Newport News Shipbuilding, showed buoyancy and ballast. He designs submarines ­ and used to design aircraft carriers ­ and also answered questions about subs' use.

"You can take out (enemy) missiles and then disappear under the sea," he said, standing behind a tank of water on which floated a jar with a tube attached. It was a teaching aid to demonstrate submersion.

Jennifer Boykin, vice president of quality and excellence at Newport News Shipbuilding, pointed out choices the students have ahead of them.

Engineers are addressing the world's water shortages and roads and bridges, she said. "All of those types of problems that the world has, they're looking for solutions from engineers and scientists," Boykin added. "Those are the opportunities you will have."

She worked with aircraft carriers at the shipyard and invited the students to imagine themselves as engineers, developing Pixar, the process that gave the world movies such as "Shrek," "Toy Story" and "Transformers."

Boykin worked on the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis and suggested a role in the motion picture "Transformers II" to the assembly. "If I had not been an engineer, I could not stand here today and tell you I am partly responsible for taking out Megatron," she said, to a titter from the audience.

The lure for the students is a broader look at what "engineering" means.

"I want to be a nuclear or chemical engineer," said Bill Steinberger, a senior at Hampton Christian Academy. Which, he isn't sure. And which school he will attend?

"No clue," he said, adding that he had applied to six.

The lure for teachers is exposing their students to broader ideas about the use of their education.

"It gives them the exposure that I can't personally give them," said Chris Becke, who teaches advanced placement physics, among other subjects at Warhill High School in James City County. "I¹ll teach them physics, but I can only give them a certain number of anecdotes about what they can do with it. Hopefully this gets them to see lots of different options that they don't know about."

After four sessions, the students sat at the tables they occupied for Session 4 and took on a challenge. Those at NASA tables were tasked with building a lander out of a Styrofoam cup, marshmallows and straws. Those at the Newport News Shipbuilding tables were given some wire and duct tape to build a boat.

The winners were determined by finding the highest level from which a dropped cup could survive a landing; and determining which duct tape boat could carry the heaviest cargo without sinking.

"We want to get them working together as a team to brainstorm, build a design, create a consensus," said Bob Benjamin of Newport News Shipbuilding. "We will verify that design by putting on the weight. So they're planning it, executing it and verifying the design."

All done by high school students who had met 15 minutes earlier.

In a way, that's what happened over four months for Career Day.

"At first, you go through a stormy phase," said Kimberly Graupner, who led NASA Langley's participation and worked with Newport News Shipbuilding and the Peninsula Engineers Council. "Everybody has an idea and everyone wants to go in a different direction. When we finally get on the same page, this is what you see."


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