Students hone engineering skills

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West Edgecombe eighth-grader Molly Turner, 13, aligns the conveyor section of her team's deisgn Wednesday during the inaugural Twin Counties STEM Design Challenge at the Rocky Mount Event Center.


Staff Writer

Thursday, April 4, 2019

A student engineering team from West Edgecombe Middle School won the day Wednesday as they emerged as the victors during the first annual Twin Counties STEM Design Challenge at the Rocky Mount Event Center.

The STEM Challenge, which was designed to help promote student understanding of science, technology, engineering and math concepts, involved using identical K’nex building sets to design a device to solve an engineering problem presented in the novel “Holes” by Louis Sachar. Roughly 16 middle school teams with five to six students on each team competed in this year’s challenge, with 60 middle school students from Edgecombe County Public Schools and 36 from Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools involved in the challenge. Most schools sent two teams to compete.

“This was a great event,” said Tremain McQueen, chief technology officer for Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools. “It gave students the opportunity to sharpen their skills and explore their creativity. They also had the opportunity to work with engineers to come up with a design that had to meet certain criteria.”

A team from Edwards Middle School took second place at the event and a team from South Edgecombe Middle School garnered third place. Student at all levels won medals for their respective win and a K’nex set of their own ranging from a 35-piece set for third-place winners to a 100-piece set for first-place winners.

But all the students were winners in a sense. They not only gained experience of collaboration and knowledge of engineering, they all each won a free STEM camp experience this summer either at Edgecombe Community College or Nash Community College.

The event began last year as an Edgecombe County Public Schools event held in church fellowship hall. However, this year, STEP,  the Strategic Twin Counties Education Partnership, stepped up to organize the event as a Twin Counties venture. Part of the mission of STEP is “improving the educational opportunities for students in the Twin Counties area — cradle to career — by facilitating collaboration between our schools, our community colleges, our community-based organizations and our employers” said Pam Gould, executive director for STEP.

Gould said the event also helps students think about their choices for the future. 

“Students cannot prepare for jobs or careers they do not know about,” Gould said. “Collaborating with local business partners provides much-needed career awareness and knowledge, products and the economic impact of them.”

Each team worked with engineering professionals connected with local industries. These engineers worked with the students since January to help them learn concepts such as blueprint development, cost analysis and basic engineering design.

Frank Grano, test engineer manager for Keihin Carolina System Technology, was one of the engineers who worked with teams from Patillo Middle School and Martin Millennium Academy.

“This was a wonderful experience and it was actually a lot of fun,” Grano said. “It was a good opportunity to work with these students. I was really impressed with what they could do at their ages.”

Gould said these industry connections are valuable to students and businesses as well.

“I was so inspired as I visit the teams to not only see the students’ excitement about the competition but their understanding of design and engineering concepts. It is also encouraging to have the commitment of so many company partners who see the need to become an active participant in creating their own talent pipeline. Recruitment begins with career awareness,” Gould said.

Other team sponsors included Barnhill Contracting Co., Cummins Rocky Mount Engine Plant, ABB of Pinetops, Edwards Inc., Pfizer, Oakley Collier Architects and LS Cable & System.

Grant funding for the event was made possible by the Edgecombe Charitable Trust and Futrell-Maudlin Community Foundation to help make the learning experience possible. Suddenlink by Altice was the awards sponsor for the event.