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Some friendly engineering jousting

BY JUSTIN SUGG | FEBRUARY 27, 2009 7:30 AM

Roller coasters aren’t part of the Iowa City skyline.

But with just office chairs and construction paper, students from Iowa high schools, including West High and City High, turned an IMU ballroom into a makeshift amusement park on Thursday.

The activity was part of the annual Test of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science. The competition, sponsored by the Junior Engineering and Technology Society, is familiar territory for West, which has sent teams for the last nine years.

“[The competition] uses more of the skills [students] will use in college in the future,” said West High coach and physics teacher Matt Harding. “Most of the kids are going into engineering, and this is a good intro to the types of tasks they’ll encounter.”

In West’s nine years competing, the school has performed well, often placing in the top 20 nationally and even finishing first two years ago, Harding said.



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For City High, though, it’s a different story. The school sent its first team ever. Dominic Audia, City High’s coach, said the students prepared with practice tests provided by Junior Engineering and Technology Society.

Despite their different experience and their traditional rivalry in other competitions, Audia said West has been quite helpful to City.

“It’s been very collaborative. [Harding] has offered a lot of help with tests, giving advice and suggestions,” Audia said. “It’s all good-natured.”

The competition consisted of two exams taken throughout the day. In between, students applied content related to the testing to the roller coaster assembly activity.

Rebecca Whitaker, coordinator for the competition and the UI College of Engineering K-12 outreach coordinator, said the exams were open book, open note, open discussion, and theme-based.

This year’s theme was amusement park, Whitaker said. Both coaches said the test questions were related to issues in creating and managing a theme park — such as managing traffic flow, Audia said.

Themes are often topical — last year’s was the Beijing Olympics, Harding said.

Coordinators grade the exams and award the team with the highest score individual scholarships of $500. Then they send a separate part of the exam to be graded at a national level, where schools are ranked.

“The school that ranks No. 1 nationally gets a big, shiny trophy,” Whitaker said.

Harding joked tardy students have to polish the trophy West has already won.

For the students, the benefits extend beyond the $500 scholarship and trophy.
“The competition gives me more insight to what engineering is about,” said Aaron Heise, a City High senior.

Heise, who plans to study Aerospace Engineering, said he enjoyed taking the exams.
“It’s a pretty big mental challenge,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to come down for a full day here with friends solving complex equations.”


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