Last week, some civic-minded staff from Public Works spent a Saturday morning overseeing two engineering challenges designed to engage the minds of 75 middle school children.
The students, all hailing from schools in the Saint Paul school district, had the chance to test their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) knowledge against two challenges: The first was to build a car from junk food including Oreo cookies, marshmallows, Lifesavers and pretzel sticks.
The second challenge required the students to build a free-standing tower using only mini marshmallows and toothpicks. Working under a tight deadline of just a few minutes, these activities were an important exercise in utilizing problem-solving skills while working together with peers.
Civil engineer Jesse Farrell and electrician supervisor John McNamara, who oversaw the tower challenge, both came away impressed with the students’ creativity and ability to take on the problems from several unique angles. Civil engineers Sonja Piper, Reuben Collins and David Kuebler oversaw the car challenge and were very impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and teamwork.
Public Works’ goal was to create a first-hand demonstration of how engineering is everywhere in our everyday lives. Hours of planning goes into the most mundane everyday activities—from crossing the street to flushing the toilet. One thing is certain-- engaging students to recognize the benefits of STEM skills is just one part of keeping them interested, but sometimes junk food is a great catalyst.