High School Kids Designing Aircraft to Locate Lost Children

Eighty percent of American high school kids are not interested in engineering, and 40 percent don’t even know what engineering is. Yet STEM-related jobs are growing three times faster than non-STEM jobs, and continued growth is projected for the coming decade.

You don’t need to be a STEM major to understand that kind of math. It’s not good. But programs like The Real World Design Challenge are out to turn the math around.

The Real World Design Challenge is all about getting high school students thinking about real-world engineering problems experienced in industry every day. This fall, kids from across the country will tackle one of two challenges: design an ultra fuel-efficient commercial truck or produce an unmanned aircraft system which can be used to locate missing children.

The national design competition—which attracts more than 7,800 high school students—was kicked off late last month in Washington, D.C. by Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and the students from last year’s championships.

The competition is supported by public-private partnerships between industry, government and schools and provide students an opportunity to use professional engineering tools—to the tune of millions of dollars of free software—to solve actual challenges facing the nation’s most important industries.

It’s hoped that the program will inspire kids to go onto STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and careers. And it seems to be working. So far, one-hundred percent of students who’ve participated in the Real World Design Challenge have gone on to university and 90 percent of them go into engineering fields.

The challenge draws the interest of big-name industry across the board, and this year the students can pick from mentors from companies like BAE Systems, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, and Pratt & Whitney, as well as NASA and the FAA, among many others.

Access to engineering professionals is a huge bonus, according to Pam Davis, coach of the Kansas Tornadoes, last year’s winning team. “The chance to use engineering software and the opportunity to work with professional mentors helped my students secure scholarships as well as get accepted into our nation’s best engineering schools,” she says.

Scholarships and internships are also a hot item at the challenge, with past team members receiving up to $48,000 for a four-year engineering program and summer internships at the likes of Black & Veatch, the third largest engineering company in the world.

Each student has a role to play on the team—project manager, project engineer, marketing communications specialist—and an opportunity to make a real contribution. Student teams will begin work on the state challenge now and the winners at that level will receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. to compete at the national challenge April 2013.

The aviation challenge requires kids to design an aircraft—weighing no more than 55 pounds—that can search a two-mile radius area in New Mexico’s Carson National Forest, for a missing, injured or immobilized child wearing a blue jacket. Teams have to find the child in the minimum time while also minimizing cost.

Additionally, the students will come up with their own business plan that makes the system financially viable for 50 rescue missions. They will have to choose their own fuselage and propulsion systems, and handle the structural design and choice of materials by themselves.

Students who participate in the fuel-efficient commercial truck challenge or “surface challenge” are tasked with designing a next-generation truck with highly-enhanced fuel efficiency at the lowest cost possible. Heavy-duty vehicles account for 17 percent of transportation oil use and 12 percent of all US oil consumption. Twenty percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector are produced by heavy-duty vehicles.

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