High School Students Get Their Water Towers Shaken at Annual Engineering Day Competition

February 2010 By

OXFORD, Miss. - Eddie King III nervously watched the plywood water tower he helped build undergo the first of three earthquake simulations. As the structure shook violently, the mandatory minimum pound of water sloshed and spilled slightly. But the model remained intact.

"Our team put a lot of time into designing and building our entry," said the senior from Lee High School in Marianna, Ark. "So we expect to win something today."

But so do the students from all the other high schools participating in the University of Mississippi's annual Engineering Day competition Friday Feb. 26). Issued the challenge of designing and constructing a model water tower at a reasonable cost, they have spent weeks preparing the entries they hope are sturdy enough to withstand increasingly stronger and longer fake tremors.

"This contest was designed to be challenging - and fun," said Maxine Woolsey, education outreach specialist in the UM School of Engineering. "The specifications were minimal to allow for creative engineering, yet the students had to keep their designs cost-efficient as well."

The shake-tower contest was a major attraction for King and his classmates.

"I was surprised at just how much preparation we had to make before starting this project," said Eric Garrett, another Lee High participant. "Before we purchased any materials, we had to create a to-scale drawing, create a budget and calculate the costs. I discovered I really like the technical aspects of engineering."

The structures all were tested on a "shake table." Water tower models sustaining little or no damage through the third simulation got an additional half-pound weight added atop the tank for each compression level.

By the second earthquake simulation's end, one or two models began to show stress points. Corinth High School's entry was not one of them.

"We're in it to win it," said Bailey Digby, a junior at Corinth High. "We gave it our best. Hopefully, that will prove to be enough when all the shaking stops and the judging ends."

More than 50 high school students from eight Mississippi schools attended Engineering Day, which was the culmination of a monthlong observance aimed at increasing enrollment by helping students "see the engineer" within themselves. The engineering school, UM Division of Outreach and Continuing Education and the Center for Mathematics and Science Education co-sponsored the gathering.

Schools emerging victorious at the end of the day included West Union Attendance Team of Union County, Ridgeland High School, Tupelo Christian Preparatory School and Corinth High School.

Earlier in the day, dozens of UM students from all six engineering departments greeted the eager prospects. Loaded with information about academic programs and careers, each UM representative sought to make a favorable and lasting impression upon the visitors. Besides the water tower model-earthquake simulation competition, students also competed in individual and team math, science and engineering tests.

The Ole Miss students succeeded in their objectives, several of the high school student agreed.

"I think Ole Miss has a really good engineering school," said Dora Chen, a junior at Oxford High School. "In the first session, I learned enough about engineering to be sure that this is really what I want to do."

Engineering Student Body Vice President Alissa Carroll, who helped coordinate National Engineers Week activities, said she is thrilled at the visitors' positive response as she was busy hosting Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day elsewhere on campus.

"The engineering students give a great deal of time and energy helping facilitate these competitions," said Carroll, a senior from Kingwood, Texas. "Seeing high school students enjoying themselves and hearing them say they're considering attending Ole Miss makes it all worthwhile."

Woolsey said she also considered Engineering Day proceedings a success.

"This is one of the most excited groups we've ever hosted," Woolsey said. "Hopefully, many of these high school students will come to Ole Miss, earn their various degrees in engineering and be able to find post-graduation employment, internship or co-op opportunities."

Already, one participant is sold on that idea.

"Whether we win the water tower competition or not, engineering is something I know that I'm passionate about," Garrett said. "I'm definitely planning on coming to Ole Miss because it has a great program, has a beautiful campus and is close to home."

For more information about the University of Mississippi School of Engineering, call 662-915-5780 or visit engineering.olemiss.edu.