Innovative program teaches high school students to think like engineers – Orange County Register

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No marinara sauce. No meatballs. No garlic bread.

None of the accompaniments normally included in the quintessential pasta meal were needed to build the spaghetti-framed masterpieces built by budding engineers at the annual Spaghetti Bridge event at Cal State Fullerton.

It took only epoxy, a calculator, ingenuity and teamwork to create a spaghetti bridge capable of supporting several kilograms of weight before collapsing to the ground.

  • Samuel Kim competes in a spaghetti bridge contest during the closing ceremony of Cal State Fullerton-Johns Hopkins University’s Engineering Innovation Summer Program on Friday, July 29, 2022. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Photographer collaborater)

  • Associate Dean Dr. Sang June Oh speaks at the closing...

    Associate Dean Dr. Sang June Oh speaks at the closing ceremony of Cal State Fullerton-Johns Hopkins University’s Engineering Innovation Summer Program, Friday, July 29, 2022. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, collaborating photographer)

  • The Cal State Fullerton-Johns Hopkins University Summer Engineering Innovation Program...

    Cal State Fullerton-Johns Hopkins University’s Summer Engineering Innovation Program is hosting a Spaghetti Bridge Contest on Friday, July 29, 2022. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Caden Oh applauds after his team, Flying Spaghetti Monster, placed...

    Caden Oh applauds after his team, Flying Spaghetti Monster, placed first in a spaghetti bridge competition during Cal State Fullerton-Johns Hopkins University’s Summer Engineering Innovation Program on Friday, July 29, 2022. ( Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

  • Moses Chen participates in a spaghetti bridge contest during the...

    Moses Chen competes in a spaghetti bridge contest during the closing ceremony of Cal State Fullerton-Johns Hopkins University’s Engineering Innovation Summer Program on Friday, July 29, 2022. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Photographer collaborater)

  • Samuel Kim competes in a spaghetti bridge contest during the...

    Samuel Kim competes in a spaghetti bridge contest during the closing ceremony of Cal State Fullerton-Johns Hopkins University’s Engineering Innovation Summer Program on Friday, July 29, 2022. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Photographer collaborater)

  • The Cal State Fullerton-Johns Hopkins University Summer Engineering Innovation Program...

    Cal State Fullerton-Johns Hopkins University’s Summer Engineering Innovation Program is hosting a Spaghetti Bridge Contest on Friday, July 29, 2022. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Held annually since 2006, the July 29 competition was the culmination of the four-week Engineering Innovation Program for high school students with an aptitude in math and science and an interest in engineering.

The college-level program is a partnership between CSUF and the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Students learn engineering disciplines and test their knowledge by completing hands-on projects.

Each of the six teams of three to five students was tasked with building a 50 centimeter bridge, no taller than 25 centimeters and weighing no more than 250 grams.

Teams had to apply calculations learned over the four-week course to determine the precise balance between compression and tension, allowing the bridge to support the optimal amount of weight before collapsing.

The winning structure – an arch-shaped bridge supported by diagonal and vertical beams – held 9 kilograms, or 19.8 pounds, before collapsing.

The bridge, which took 15 hours to build, was created by the five-person team Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Team members Malia Haynes (Marina High School), Alex Lee (Troy), Caden Oh (Sunny Hills), Jonathan Wu (Portola) and Sebastian Shih (Diamond Bar) used three types of spaghetti to create the winning structure .

Flying Spaghetti Monster experimented with different designs before selecting what was ultimately the winning entry, said Haynes, who attends Marina.

“We laid out all the parts, started making everything, and then found out that our design wouldn’t work,” Haynes said. “So we had to start from scratch, so that in itself was super stressful. I don’t think we thought we were going to win.

The team used a simulator provided by Johns Hopkins that allowed them to enter data to determine which parts were creating tension and which were creating compression.

“At first our teacher said the bridge wasn’t going to work, so we had to go back, drop the idea and try to make a new design,” Oh said. “So, we collectively participated and came up with a new design.”

All agreed that teamwork was one of the keys to victory.

“Our teacher told us we were like a factory,” Lee said. “He could tell how effective we were. Everyone played a role in helping us win.

The competition was being held for the first time in three years after the coronavirus pandemic forced its cancellation in 2020 and 2021.

The all-time record for the contest came in 2018 at CSUF when a team of high school students built a spaghetti bridge that held 209 pounds.

“It’s great to feel that we have bright future engineers here, and I’m able to witness the very beginning of their future careers,” said Sanju Oh, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at CSUF.

Students met from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday throughout the four weeks of the program and earned three college credits from Johns Hopkins.

Students learn to think like engineers, attend lectures, test theories and solve problems.

“It was a great course overall,” Wu said. “We were able to learn a lot and see the different aspects of engineering.

The students also carried out laboratory activities in robotics and in electrical, computer, mechanical, civil and chemical engineering.

“They all want to go into engineering, but they don’t know what branch,” said John Kim, a high school teacher and former engineer. “So they have this as an introductory course to help them figure out what branch of engineering they would like to pursue.”

Southern California Edison has supported seven scholarships for the program.

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