About 80 students from seven local high schools took part in the seventh annual Sensis Student Engineering Competition. The contest, which took place at Liverpool High School, gives students a real engineering problem and challenges them with the task of designing a machine that can carry out its solution. Competing schools were Liverpool, Jamesville-DeWitt, Chittenango, Cazenovia, Oswego and Westhill. A group of home-schooled students also participated.
Laura Livingston of Sensis, who organized this year’s event, said this year’s problem involved moving a delicate component to a targeted location using three axes and two trigger events.
“In this case, they have to move an egg to one of the targets on the table,” Livingston said. “In the problem statement, we don’t give them all of the details. They have to read it pretty closely and figure out some of the constraints.”
Livingston said this year’s problem was used once before.
“This is the first time we’ve recycled a problem,” she said. “Usually, what happens is a group of Sensis engineers come up with a challenge, and we send it to the kids. This year, we were so excited — we’ve been waiting for all of the kids who did this one to graduate so we could use it again. It’s such a great problem.”
The problem, Livingston said, captured the essence of the engineering competition.
“It teaches them program management skills, time management skills, critical thinking skills,” she said. “Most of all, it lets them experience what engineering can be like as a career.”
Apparently, what kids find is that engineering can be fun.
“They love it,” Livingston said. “They do it and then they come back to school in September and ask their teachers when they can do it again.”
Liverpool technology teacher and coach Cheryl McConaghey said the Liverpool teams were very excited to participate — so excited that they voluntarily gave up vacation time to come to school to work on their machines.
“They’ve worked really hard,” McConaghey said. “They were here over February break every day, over Easter break, nights, weekends — they worked really hard. I’m really proud of them.”
As Livingston pointed out, it’s not only the students that should be commended.
“This is a pretty hefty volunteer effort on the part of the teachers,” she said. “They deserve recognition for that.”
And it’s a hefty effort for Sensis employees, who design the problem statement, work with the kids during the course of their design work and host and judge the competition.
“We’re committed to giving back to the community,” Livingston said of the company. “Our volunteers believe in the potential of these kids. We want to grow engineering talent here in Central New York — for our own selfish purposes, of course.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.