Vol. 19, No. 1, Spring 2006
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Hofstra Professors find Innovative Ways to Make Engineering Accessible and Fun
Robotic gizmos and zany Rube Goldberg machines. Major League Baseball statistics and history. Electric guitar riffs and comedic impressions. Those are not the kinds of things one would expect to hear or learn about in engineering classes, but they're precisely the ideas being used by Department of Engineering Professor and Chair M. David Burghardt and Professors Richard Puerzer and Mauro Caputi to serve not only as a springboard to discuss sophisticated engineering subject matter, but also as a means of sparking students' imaginations and interest in their area of study.
Dubbed the "NCAA of Smarts," the 2005 and 2006 Long Island Regional Robotics FIRST Competition allowed Hofstra engineering students , such as Peter Rosseland(left), to work with high school students who are competing for scholarship dollars and a chance to advance to the national competition.
Dr. Burghardt and his students are involved in two major annual competitive events, the Long Island Regional Robotics FIRST Competition and the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, both of which combine applying lessons learned with lots of fun. High school students compete in the former event, with Hofstra students serving as mentors, while the Rube Goldberg event is strictly for collegians.
The "NCAA of Smarts"
March 24 and 25, the Hofstra Arena was filled with students whose faces were painted school colors. The music was blaring and thecheers deafening. However, this was not the NIT basketball quarterfinals but the Long Island Regional Robotics FIRST Competition for high school students.
This was the second time Hofstra hosted this riveting event, and it won't be the last. Getting students interested in engineering while they are still in high school is the primary goal of the Long Island Regional Robotics FIRST Competition.
With Hofstra students serving as advisers and mentors to their high school counterparts, this event is a no-holdsbarred struggle among 150-pound robots designed and built by joint teams of high school students and corporate engineers. The competition is surprisingly fierce, and it generates as much excitement and audience participation as a major league sporting event.
Dubbed the "NCAA of Smarts," the FIRST Competition this year featured 38 local high schools vying for scholarships and a chance to advance to the FIRST USA Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Dr. Burghardt, Hofstra's Jean Nerken Distinguished Professor in Engineering, says having the robotics contest at Hofstra is important to his department and to the University as a whole. "It represents some of the best aspects of engineering - exciting design projects, teamwork and creativity. We are striving for Hofstra engineering to embody these same attributes in the courses we teach and the experiences students have."
In addition to the adulation of the crowd and the joy of victory, students have another incentive to participate in the FIRST competition: Long Island students have been awarded in excess of $525,000 in scholarships since 2002, according to School-Business Partnerships of Long Island (SBLI). Dr. Burghardt points out that Hofstra provides scholarship support as well: $1,500 a year for four years to qualified FIRST participants who enroll in the University's engineering program... | more |