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SOUTH GATE : Engineering Lesson Takes Flight

March 06, 1994|MARY HELEN BERG

It's amazing what you can do with Popsicle sticks and glue.

Eighth-graders at South Gate Junior High thought they were constructing model catapults for the second annual Catapult Design Competition, sponsored by the Associate Member Forum of the American Society of Civil Engineers. But they were building confidence and pride too.

"It was really great to design something of your own the way you want it, " said Lorena Navar, 14, who said she was not sure what a civil engineer was when she entered the contest.

That was before her all-girl team, the 5 Non-Blondes, surprised themselves by beating stereotypes--and 17 other teams--for first place.

"We're girls," Lorena said. "We thought the guys were going to win."

The contest was developed as part of the forum's efforts to promote awareness of civil engineering as a career and to encourage students to stay in school.

Twice as many students participated in the South Gate contest this year. The winners will receive scientific calculators and all students will receive certificates, said Mark Serna, chairman of the community outreach program.

"We try to provide role models for kids from economic backgrounds who may not have professionals around," Serna said. "We introduce (the students) to young engineers . . . so they can see that it's not as difficult as it may seem (to be an engineer). All you need is the education."

The 18 teams tinkered with their designs for a month before unveiling them for a contest of distance and accuracy. Models were held together with glue, twine and bungee cord.

The 5 Non-Blondes was the first team to compete. A hushed crowd watched as the catapult's triangular basket spit a fluorescent-orange golf ball 22.5 feet across the campus quad. Next, the team members estimated their catapult's accuracy and placed a board where they hoped the ball would land. The catapult arm pulled back--and thwack-- the ball solidly hit its mark. The crowd roared as if watching the home team slam dunk.

Teachers agreed that the outdoor competition helped students apply classroom lessons in a concrete way.

But the most important lesson was about cooperation, students said.

Red-haired Erica Sanchez, 14, who said her hair color brought the 5 Non-Blondes their luck, summed it up: "I love this team."

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