By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Their assignment was serious: Design a glider that can carry a spectrometer over Lake Erie to identify algal blooms before they reach dangerous levels.
Their supplies were not so serious: A shoe box, cardboard, duct tape, popsicle sticks, yarn, aluminum foil, Saran wrap and pennies.
The young engineers were middle school students, mostly from Bowling Green, who signed up last month for a five-day manufacturing camp, called “Making It.” The camp was designed to help Wood County students learn about manufacturing, teamwork and local production facilities.
In addition to spending one day engineering gliders at Bowling Green State University, the students also visited manufacturing sites in Wood County, including Owens-Illinois, Home Depot, Lubrizol and Northwood Industries. Students toured each of the sites to get a better picture of what modern industries look like. Penta Career Center also hosted an advanced manufacturing lab using robotics.
The goal was to show students that manufacturing no longer means repetitive, thoughtless processes. In many cases, it involved high-tech engineering skills.
“This is some really good hands-on experience,” said Maria Simon, of Wood County District Public Library, which was one of the camp sponsors. “It’s not just ‘Let’s make a glider.’ But let’s make one that does what we want it to do.”
As the students struggled with their gliders, they heard from two NASA engineers from the Glenn Research Center, Nicole Smith and Eric Reed.
“I hear you guys are going to be doing some pretty incredible stuff this week,” Smith said.
Both women work with the Orion spacecraft in Sandusky.
Smith is an aerospace engineer. “That actually does make me a rocket scientist. You can make all the jokes you want,” she said with a grin.
Reed works on the vacuum chamber and contamination control for the spacecraft. “Our technicians won’t be eating cheeseballs,” Smith joked.
Both women talked about the thrill of being part of a project that will help humans reach Mars.
“We are pushing beyond what we’ve ever done before,” Reed said.
“This is why I went to school,” Smith said.
They encouraged the students to not give up in school – even when it gets really tough.
“I got Cs in physics. I’m not going to lie,” Smith said.
“I failed the first physics test I took in my life,” Reed said.
“Don’t give up. It’s pretty tough stuff, but it’s so rewarding,” Smith said.
And never be afraid to be smart, they added.
“Let’s be honest, it is really cool to be smart,” Smith said.
Helping to organize the camp was the office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. Community partners for the camp included BGSU, Wood County Economic Development Commission, Ohio Means Jobs Wood County, Bowling Green City Schools, Northwest Ohio for Excellence in STEM Education, Wood County District Public Library, Job and Family Services of Wood County, Penta Career Center and Wood County Educational Service Center.