Area students engineer victories

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Union High School student Emily Anderson has plenty of time to choose a career path. But it would be no stretch to say she would have a bright future in engineering.
Anderson was one of four MUHS students to win top honors at this summer’s Governor’s Institutes of Vermont (GIV) Engineering Institute, an annual, week-long educational program hosted by the University of Vermont. Three Mount Abraham Union High School students also earned first-place awards at the institute, held at the end of July in Burlington.
“I was really happy about it,” Anderson said of her experiences during the program, culminating in her shared wins in team competitions for “best science award” in the aerospace category and “most aesthetic” citation for construction of a sand arch.
“Engineering is something I’m interested in,” Andersons said. “It’s good to see I’m pretty good at it.”
Also earning first-place kudos were Samuel Ferguson, Anderson’s teammate on the aerospace team; and Addison Bolton and Daniel Weinstock, whose team took home the “everyday usefulness award” in the robotics category.
Bolton also won first place for an engineering-related poem, titled “The Truth.”
The Mount Abe champions were Emily Friend, whose team won the Portability Award in Design Engineering; Anna Sapienza, who was on a five-member team that designed a alterative fuel systems for Shelburne Farms that was named Best in Category for Earth Systems Engineering; and Kenny Micklas’s team won the Practical Application Award in Earth Systems Engineering for its project on soil and sustainable farming.
Micklas was also named to the four-person team that will represent the United States at the 5th International Earth Science Olympiad next month in Modena, Italy (see related story in Aug. 29  Addison Independent).
The UVM/GIV Engineering Institute enrolls approximately 100 high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Each student applies for a spot in the program and has to present recommendations from his or her high school teachers. Participants are assessed a tuition, which varies depending on financial need and whether the student is an in-state or out-of-state candidate.
Established more than two decades ago, the GIV offers high school students an opportunity to unite on the UVM campus each summer to explore careers in a variety of subjects, including math, the arts, information technology, environmental science and technology, Asian cultures, current issues and youth activism, and engineering.
Students receive tutelage from educators in the various subjects the institute officers. Longtime Mount Abraham Union High School physics teacher Tom Tailer is co-director of the Engineering Institute. Participants also get to tour local businesses that specialize in the fields they are studying.
Dawn Densmore, executive director of the Engineering Institute, said the weeklong experience allows students access to the supplies, instruction and freedom they need to engage in experiments and problem solving that can’t be done in a conventional high school classroom.
“It makes them feel more confident about themselves,” Densmore said. “We are enabling the students to do undergraduate research in the area they want.”
During the weeklong program, students designed and created automated robots, rockets and prototypes for solar panels and biomass stoves.
Anderson and Ferguson were part of a team that designed and built a rocket out of PVC pipe, roofing, cardboard, duct tape and other fairly common items. They propelled the rocket with the use of an air compressor. They did research on how different kinds of stabilizer fins would alter the flight of their rocket.
The team’s testing and research, according to Ferguson, showed low-pressure propulsion from the air compressor and straight tailfins produced a more precise rocket flight, while curved tailfins yielded a more precise flight with higher pressure.
Ferguson said the team worked on the rocket project for around five days.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I learned a lot about aerodynamics.”
He added the team was able to meet Gov. Peter Shumlin during presentations.
“He was very impressed with all of us,” Ferguson said.
In the robotics category, Bolton and Weinstock’s team made a small robot — primarily of special Lego “Mindstorms” blocks — with a power supply on wheels and the capability of grasping, carrying and releasing objects. The project, which was controlled by the use of sounds like hand clapping, was designed to aid people with disabilities.
“The biggest challenge was the coding and programming that controlled the claw,” Weinstock said. “We eventually got it.”
Anderson was a double-winner, helping to create what judges determined was the most aesthetically pleasing sand arch of the competition.
Bolton’s award-winning poem was about a mushroom that dreamed of being able to walk and is able to do so after consulting an engineer that fitted it with legs.
Students on winning teams earn GIV certificates. But the true payoff can be much bigger, as some GIV students get recruited to attend UVM. Some go on to become big success stories in their chosen field, Densmore said.
“They make friendships that can last a lifetime,” she added.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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