Launch of STEM know-how during the MESA Regional Design Day

Anilem Estrada (left) and his teammates from Sunnyside High School in Tucson test out their cornhole catapult Saturday during the MESA Regional Design Day at the GCU campus.

Story of Lana Sweeten-Shults
Pictures of Ralph Freso
GCU News Desk

Anilem Estrada is fierce.

Crouching on the east lawn of Grand Canyon University’s Sunset Auditorium, the student from Sunnyside High School in Tucson squints and stares at the target in front of her, about 20 feet away.

His weapon of choice: a catapult, its throwing arm held at bay by a bundle of nervous latex tubes.

She picks up the arm, the end of which contains a mesh screen on which Estrada and his team – an all-female team of catapult engineers – have placed a bag of beans while they play a game of the popular lawn game, only with catapults.

A student from Alta Vista High School spins his catapult built by Tinker Toy.

The bean bag rises towards the hole on the cornhole board but does not hit the target. When sighs of disappointment ensue among the team, a passer-by offers them advice: “I notice that when you put the bag further back on the arm, it gets closer to the hole. I may be wrong, but…”

On the next try: Success!

The team yawns and applauds, festive high-fives encapsulating the wave of excitement in the air.

The Cornhole Catapult Challenge is just one of Estrada’s design competitions and more than 75 middle and high school students from eight campuses tackled the Technology Building and Sunset Auditorium on Saturday as part of the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (or MESA) Regional Design Day, organized by GCU’s K12 Educational Development.

It was a chance for the MESA-enrolled high school students who worked on this year’s design challenges to test them out and get feedback from the volunteer judges ahead of the nationwide MESA Day competition. State on April 30 at the University of Arizona. Or, if these high school students hadn’t started their designs yet, this was a chance for them to familiarize themselves with this year’s challenges.

Not only can students build a cornhole catapult, but they can also build a model disaster relief shelter, design a sustainable skyscraper, participate in the Hack Attack Challenge to hack into other teams’ computers while protecting the them, or create a mobile app, to name a few.

Marni Landry, Director of K12 STEM Outreach, said GCU is hosting the MESA Regional Design Day to support the K12 STEM pipeline.

Students from GCU’s STEM Club were there by their side, “supporting the K-12 (STEM) pipeline,” said GCU’s director of K12 STEM Outreach Marni Landryfrom the Honors College to the IEEE (the electrical engineering club) to the STEM Council.

The University’s Technology Club held the Hack Attack Challenge in the Technology Building, where participants solved computer puzzles to earn points – points they can use to slow down their opponents.

At the end of the competition, the president of the Technology Club Trevor Baines called out a few names for the first, second and third place winners, then asked the next important question, “Who made it among us?” laughing as he tried to find out which student paid homage to online video gaming during the contest.

Trevor Baines, president of the GCU Technology Club, assists a student enrolled at MESA during the Hack Attack Challenge.

The Technology Club is nearing completion of a wearable device it designed just before COVID-19. The hope is that the Havocs will wear the LED smartbands, which will be programmed to emit a light show during a basketball game.

But the club is working on other projects.

Second-year cybersecurity student and member of the Technology Club Diego Briceno was on hand to help MESA students but also to brag about the Deep Racer Spring 2022 High School competition, which the club and Discount Tire will be hosting on May 13 on the GCU campus.

The club showcased the Amazon Web Services Deep Racer, a futuristic model vehicle that students will program to help them learn to drive, then race the car autonomously in the world’s premier autonomous racing league. The car will basically learn to drive through AI.

Briceno said he volunteered on Saturday because “I see myself in the younger generation. I wish I could have been in their place for these small or large scale cyber events. And I know if I had started earlier I could have had a lot more experience, I probably could have had a better job, whatever.

“Personally, I like to give them the opportunity.”

GCU Technology Club member Niya Patterson (right) helps a MESA student solve computer puzzles.

The technology club Niya Pattersonhead of the Girls Who Code committee, also participated in the Hack Attack Challenge and was registering students for the committee’s Coding With My Girls event on March 26, where teams will learn how to create a website.

She was there, she says, “helping the next generation be better prepared than I was. Personally, I’m a cyber major, but working with Coding With My Girls made me try to hone my coding skills. I also like to organize events like this…to give them a taste of what to expect if they were to study this in college.

Patterson said events like MESA, Coding with My Girls, and AWS Deep Racer Challenge are great events even for students who aren’t necessarily interested in a career in tech.

“They have a whole project that they can add to their portfolio and just say, like, ‘I built a website with a team.’ That’s great to say, especially if you’re heading into a tech field.

Carlos Hidalgowhose son, Leonardo, a student at the Alhambra Traditional School, who ranked third in the Hack Attack Challenge, said it took him until his mid-30s to realize engineering was what he wanted to do. He wanted his children to find this path sooner.

“My son is into coding and wanted to do it today,” he said, “so we got up early to come here.”

The GCU Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers assisted students in the Disaster Relief Shelter area. Students had 20 minutes to create a model shelter and then presented their design to the judges. Or they could bring in a pre-built shelter, which a team from the Maricopa Institute of Technology did. A volunteer judge asked question after question about the team’s design and analyzed their design sketches.

High school students, led by the engineering teacher Mehul Gandhibuilt a model house to withstand an earthquake.

The house, perched on tennis balls for earthquake testing, also included a pitched roof for rainwater collection and other sustainable home features.

“Based on the kind of feedback we get today, we will work on it and improve it,” Gandhi said.

Maricopa Institute of Technology 10th grade student Zahra Ali said what she enjoyed most was the camaraderie: “Just doing it (competition) together is fun.”

Middle and high school students take on the Paper Ball Run Challenge.

Jared Smithpresident of the GCU Robotics Club, was busy in the Paper Ball Run Challenge room with other members of his club, which is preparing for a robotics competition March 5 at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The high school students used paper, tape, and cardboard to build ramps and get a ball to go down those ramps as slowly as possible without getting stuck.

GCU Society of Women Engineers Chapter Member Ranim Gadalaa sophomore engineering student, said she wanted to help out at Saturday’s events because “I love kids and feel like everyone should be exposed to engineering.”

“And it’s literally Engineering Week (National Engineering Week), so what better way to help kids get excited about engineering?” added another SWE member Marguerite Valenciaa senior in biomedical engineering.

GCU SWE Project Engineer Jess Padillea mechanical engineering student, said she wanted to volunteer at MESA Regional Design Day because she had younger siblings.

“I’m far from them, so just having the opportunity to inspire them always makes me feel good,” Padilla said. “And I didn’t really have a lot of (engineering) experience growing up, so I want to make sure every kid has an opportunity and gets excited about it,” just like Anilem Estrada was.

Students at the closing of the MESA event.

As she prepared to launch another cornhole bag onto the cornhole board with her team’s catapult, Matt Bergstroma mechanical engineering junior and powertrain manager for GCU’s Canyon Motorsports, told the team: “It’s points to get on the board as well, so if you can still hit the board, that’s a good benchmark .”

Estrada said what she loved about the MESA competition is simple: “You use a lot of mentality. You have to think a lot about everything. »

Then she smiled.

“I just like seeing the results, because it’s a lot of hard work.”

GCU Senior Editor Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


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TOS today: Engineering workshops, clubs show what they can do

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