Students in Orillia were building bridges Friday — and destroying them.
The STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industry tour has been travelling to multiple schools in the region and ended the week with a stop at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School.
It was a partnership between the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, Lakehead University and Innovative Automation, an automated manufacturing company in Barrie.
The company knew how to appeal to teens. During the opening presentation, one of the slides shown to the students read, “We build cool machines with robots and laser beams!”
While the students weren’t making any machines Friday, they did get to see how some of the company’s machines worked.
They were split into random groups and given five minutes to draw up a design for a bridge made of Popsicle sticks and another 25 minutes to assemble it.
The bridges were then put to the test, as an Innovative Automation robot was used to determine how much force was required to break them. In the end, Abbey Stone’s group had the sturdiest structure.
“It was really fun,” said Stone, 15, a Grade 10 student.
She believes her team’s bridge — which required 32.3 pounds of downforce to make it fail — came out on top because they placed the sticks on their sides, rather than flat, to create the base.
That creativity is what organizers wanted to see. They were also curious to see how the students worked as a group in a situation where they didn’t get to pick their partners.
“The board is interested in 21st-century competencies, and one of the big things that falls under that is collaboration,” said Frank Testa, the board’s STEM co-ordinator. “We are thrilled with their focus, and they stay on task for the entire 75 minutes.”
Engaging the next generation of engineers and manufacturers is important to Innovative Automation, said Jim Stobbe, the company’s manufacturing manager.
“There are so many jobs available to them, and many exist right here in this community,” he said.
His company has more than 20 positions for co-op students, including those in high school, college and university.
“We’re very much engaged with students,” Stobbe said.
At the end of the session, he asked the students to reflect on what part of the exercise they enjoyed most, as that could determine the area of study or work they might be most interested in.
Stone is still weighing her options, but she is considering pursuing a career in engineering. She said she learned a lot from the STEM industry tour’s local stop.
“It’s about the challenge it brings — the challenge to make something out of nothing, basically,” Stone said. “You need to try different things and see if you like it. Always finish the challenge you’re given. Don’t abandon it.”