How much energy does it take to launch a rocket into orbit?
This semester, the Get SET Engineering Service Learning team was given the opportunity to collaborate with the Le Grand High School physics department to implement a physics-based lab for students to further understand topics like projectile motion. The Get SET team delivered their water rocket building kits to Le Grand High School on March 6, 2020.
Le Grand High School physics teacher Blair Riding works to prepare his students for college-level courses. The subject material in physics is often difficult for students to understand because of its abstract concepts. As a result, his students struggled to connect these concepts to real-life scenarios. Riding wanted to develop an interactive curriculum to engage his students with a hands-on project, as well as pique their interest in engineering and design.
Engineering Service Learning has worked with educators in Merced County for more than 10 years. In 2017, EngSL developed a plate tectonics project for the Merced County of Education. The year before, the Service Learning team partnered with Golden Valley High School to create a velocity track project to explore kinematics and conservation of energy.
Last year, Get SET was able to work with Le Grand High School for the very first time.
The Fall 2019 team was able to create prototypes for an egg rocket. Students would be given instructions on how to construct and shoot a rocket with the goal of having an egg—inside the rocket—survive the landing. This would allow the project to cover projectile motion and other basic concepts in physics in an interactive activity.
But eggs can make a mess.
“The eggs can be hard to clean up,” Riding said, “it could take a long time, especially in the sun, to make sure everything is cleaned up.”
This semester, Get SET took a different approach to the project. Instead of the egg rockets, the Service Learning team decided to design water rocket kits that demonstrate kinetic energy, potential energy, and projectile motion. These kits are easier to build and much cleaner than the initial egg rockets.
“We gave Mr. Riding the rocket building kits, the worksheet that goes along with the project, and the file for the worksheet,” Get SET Project Manager Vazquez said, “The kits are going to contain empty two-liter bottles, cardstock, cotton balls, Ziplock bags, and sand.”
Vazquez said that the change allowed for his team to make their delivery in early March.
As project manager, Vazquez takes charge of the organization of the project, decisions on the final product, and motivating his team mates to create the best project possible. Vazquez takes pride in this project, even though his role was challenging at the beginning of the semester.
“Part of the challenge of this course lies in understanding where the previous team left off,” Vazquez said, “It was hard to get everyone motivated, especially when I was lost myself. As the project manager, they look to you for direction and guidance. Once we understood what we were doing and created a plan, we were able to move much quicker and smoother.”
Vazquez is a second-year mechanical engineering student who is passionate about the accessibility of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for all students. By participating in this project, Vazquez hoped to get the younger students interested in STEM and prove the necessity of STEM education in high school courses.
In his position, Vazquez was also able to develop soft skills—including communication, leadership, and management—that will help him as he pursues an engineering career.
In addition to the Project Manager role, there are teaching assistants and faculty advisors assigned to provide guidance for the students enrolled in the Service Learning courses. Graduate student Beatriz Morales Perez and EngSL Director Chris Butler took on the administrative roles for Get SET this semester.
Butler enjoys developing new partnerships with nonprofit and industry partners to help students gain professional and technical experience that will benefit them after graduation. Working with local educators has allowed Butler to expand EngSL’s reach and show Bobcats the importance of their work in the community.
Beatriz Morales Perez is a second-year Ph.D. student and an EngSL alumni. She completed her undergraduate courses at UC Merced in 2018 and earned a M.S. in Materials Science. She is a teaching assistant for EngSL. Given her experience as an undergrad participating in EngSL, Perez relates heavily with what students face when first entering the course.
“When you walk in on the first day, it’s pretty hectic,” Perez said. “You sit down and get bombarded with all this information. Then you realize—this is a real project. You really have to learn how to work independently. You need to learn how to delegate tasks, how to keep up with the assignments, and check in with everyone in the project.”
Despite the challenges that she and her students face, Perez enjoys being teaching assistant.
“One of the most rewarding things is to see how the team grows,” Perez explains, “That’s amazing. The students take on roles they’ve never had before, and sometimes the best way to help them is to sit with them and walk them through processes. For the first month, it’s a lot of back and forth and checking in on their progress, but they catch on and become very independent.”
Engineering Service Learning strives for students to experience a classroom environment that most courses do not offer. Students are given the opportunity to learn soft skills such as communication, leadership, and professionalism. At the end of the project, EngSL students are well versed in their soft skills and have professional experience in the industry.
“I would definitely recommend joining EngSL,” Perez said, “I highly value the skilled that I learned here. It’s a different type of teaching that not a lot of students get nowadays. It’s difficult to develop those soft skills on your own. Having a class that actually helps build those is incredibly beneficial for a student’s career.”
For the remainder of the semester, the Get SET team will be preparing for Innovate to Grow.
Innovate to Grow is a competition-based event where students from Engineering Service Learning, Capstone Design, and Engineering Software Design showcase their projects before a judging gpanel of industry representative. They hope not only to win the cash prize at the end, but also to network with clients for possible internships or jobs and get important feedback on their projects and presentations.
The Get SET Service Learning team hopes to impress the judges at Innovate to Grow and highlight the university’s relationship to the wider community.