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Students build bridges and connections during STEM challenge

Students build bridges and connections during STEM challenge

Story by Kimberly Brown on 02/27/2019

What could you build in two hours with spaghetti noodles and some epoxy?

If you were the winner of this year’s Tri-Warfare Center Middle School Challenge held Feb. 21 at Naval Base Ventura County in Point Mugu, California, you might build a bridgehead that can support more than 200 times its own weight.

The science, technology, engineering and math-focused event, based on a project designed for high school students by Dr. Greg Wood, associate professor of physics at California State University Channel Islands, challenges teams of middle school students to design, build, and test a bridgehead that can support more than its own weight under stress. This year, stress came in the form of a bucket students slowly filled with water until their bridges collapsed.

Sixteen teams of students and teachers from around Ventura County were paired with mentors from Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme Division, and Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center for the challenge. Groups also had the opportunity to tour NAWCWD facilities, including one with the Threat/Targets Department focused on remote-controlled aerial targets and another centered around nurturing innovative design and development, known as the Innovation LaunchPad.

Cynthia Martin, 7th grade science teacher from Isbell Middle School in Santa Paula, brought her students as a way to get them excited about the engineering electives offered at the school.

“They get the opportunity to interact with a team they don’t usually work with,” she said, “and they’re being asked to do real-world tasks in a setting that’s local for us. The attention they’re getting from all these adults who are supporting and welcoming them to this community, I think it’s invaluable.”

There’s value in that local connection for the Warfare Centers as well, according to Rich Burr, NAWCWD’s STEM champion.

“We are in great need of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technicians. So this is important to us,” he told the assembled teams.
“Hopefully you find that this activity is really fun, and that the career fields available right here in Ventura County are really exciting.”

This year’s winning team came from Las Colinas Middle School in Camarillo. Their bridge managed to support 205 times its own weight.
Second place, with a bridge holding 165 times its weight, was R.J. Frank Academy of Marine Science and Engineering from Oxnard.

In third place was Camarillo’s Monte Vista Middle School, whose bridge was in a tight battle for second place, holding 161 times its own weight.

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