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CBU introductory engineering course offers fun, challenges

Riverside, Calif. (July 28, 2014) – How does one make a bridge out of spaghetti and make it strong enough to hold weight? That was just one of the many things 10 high school students learned during an introductory engineering course at California Baptist University. Engineering Innovation, a four-week summer course developed by Johns Hopkins University, was offered at 14 sites nationwide. This was the first year CBU’s Gordon and Jill Bourns College of Engineering offered the program.

The course covered several fields of engineering, including chemical, electrical, computer, civil and mechanical. Nine students from the Inland Empire and one from Northern California also learned about finance and ethics and practiced oral presentation and written communications.

The purpose of the course was to get the students interested in engineering, said Grace Ni, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. She and Dr. Mark Gordon, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, co-taught the course.

“The goal of the program is mainly to inspire the young generation in engineering,” Ni said. “We let them know what engineering is about, how much fun engineering is and the different disciplines under engineering.”

The course included lectures and hands-on projects, such as designing and constructing a circuit to control a robotics car, and building a mousetrap and then writing down instructions for others to follow. Throughout, the students learned communication, how to give accurate instructions and teamwork.

The course culminated with the pasta bridges. The students learned about the strength of materials, designed a bridge on a computer and then built it. On the final day of the course, the students suspended increasing amounts of weight from the bridges until they broke. The spaghetti structures supported weights ranging from 36 to 62 pounds before collapsing.

“We want to show them engineering is really cool and you can have a lot fun, and what the essential skills are you need to grasp to be successful in the field of engineering,” Ni said.