|In UVMs Patrick Gym Complex on an early December day, the Vermont
tradition of sugar-on-snow met science, as engineered by a troop
of the states brightest teenagers. The setting was UVMs eighth
annual Design TASC competition, in which more than three-hundred
Vermont high school students tested their ingenuity against a
unique engineering challenge.
This years task was to build a machine that could accurately
launch a tennis ball (in lieu of a melting snowball) toward a
shifting target, powered only by a falling, sand-filled maple
Charles Bombard 97, one of the competitions judges, can relate
to the test the students face and the inspiration they find. As
a student at South Burlington High School, Bombard competed in
Design TASC in 1992. He graduated UVM in 1997 with an electrical
engineering degree and now works as a software engineer at IDX
Systems Corp. in South Burlington. Bombard recalled that the first
taste of science he got at UVM made him hungry for more: I was
inclined toward science, anyway, but I enjoyed the overall experience
so much that I wanted to remain involved. When the opportunity
to volunteer this year presented itself, I jumped at it.
Design TASC, sponsored by the College of Engineering and Mathematics,
has grown into one of UVMs most successful ways to connect with
Vermont. More than eight-hundred people attended this years competition,
which drew fifty-five teams from thirty Vermont high schools,
more than in any previous year.
I view this as a community service, to allow Vermont high school
students to use their knowledge of science and technology to solve
an engineering problem. They dont get to do that much in high
school, said Stephen Titcomb, associate professor of electrical
engineering and chair of the Design TASC committee.
This year, for the first time, three UVM alumni employed at IBM
served as industrial mentors, sharing expertise with teams.
One of them, Scott Pennington G97, said he sees three main benefits
to the competition. First, he noted, it sparks an interest in
engineering: This is becoming an increasingly technological society
and engineers play a vital role. The competition also stretches
the students with a new challenge. And it promotes collaboration.
Students spend a lot of time working individually in school,
but in the real world, engineering is almost always a group effort.
Each year Design TASC fills Patricks indoor tennis courts with
UVM engineers future and past among them, Joel Hannah 82, who
teaches physics as Mt. Abraham Union High School in Bristol. Several
days after this years competition he shared an anecdote, the
sort that reminds a teacher why he is in the business. On the
ride home to Bristol, a student asked Hannah about one of the
prizes a waiver of the application fee to the College of Engineering
and Mathematics. He told me he wanted to be a computer or mechanical
engineer, Hannah said. So theres payback to this.
It was great for the kids to get out of their school and see what the university is like, Hannah added. They find that there are real people there and its not an ivory tower.