Interdisciplinary studies

The College of Engineering opened its doors to the public this weekend for its 33rd annual expo designed to inspire the next generation of engineers.

“It’s refreshing to see it come together after all these months of planning,” said Anthony Hildoer, a junior majoring in computer engineering.

The expo sparked an interest in engineering for at least a few of the hundreds of kids from local elementary, middle and high schools filling the College of Engineering’s main complex, Hildoer said. For scientists and engineers, there is always the moment of inspiration.

“It all started with Mr. Wizard, and now there are events like this,” Hildoer said. “These kids can figure out what they want to be before they get to college. We think the expo can help out with that.”

Working as coordination director, Hildoer was one of 20 students brought together to create an experience for visitors Friday and Saturday. An example of how engineering was used in various aspects of the event, his knowledge of computers was useful in designing a check-in system for the expo’s 400 student volunteers.

“Before, the system was on paper,” he said, “but now that it’s computer-automated, with card swiping instead of form filing, the students can apply extra credit earned from their volunteer hours in a fraction of the time.”

Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary School in St. Petersburg is one of four engineering magnet schools in country. The school ran their own exhibit among others from sponsors TECO and Raytheon.

“We’re doing hovercrafts,” said fifth-grader Cheyenne Harms. Using compact discs, empty camera film cases and balloons, the children built miniature hovercrafts and measured how far they traveled. These are the activities students use to incorporate engineering in daily learning, said Jamerson teacher Debbie O’Hare.

“We integrate it into our math, social science and science,” O’Hare said. This week the students will study native Floridians, specifically the dugouts and boats they built. “They’ll experiment with clay boats and weights. It’s basically a buoyancy activity.”

Jamerson fifth graders Stephen McKellar and Courtney Williams, excited to spend the day at the expo, explained why someone so young would enjoy engineering.

“It lets me express my creativity,” Williams said.

“We get to do stuff that people like Isaac Newton and Thomas Edison have done,” McKellar said.

The College of Engineering History Exhibit displayed photos and tools from the college’s last 40 years. Artifacts such as slide rules were something Ed Thompson remembered from his days in the college. Receiving his master’s degree in 1975, he returned to judge expo exhibits.

“The amount of student interaction has increased,” Thompson said. “I was impressed.”

Fellow judge Kenneth Ruff looked at a building buzzing with students and remembered the open field it used to be.

“The campus has just mushroomed,” Ruff said. Graduating in 1986, he said he’s been working on Wall Street for the past several years.

“It’s neat to see the students doing something amazing. They’ve got to have more of an opportunity,” Ruff said.