Aspiring Engineers

High school teams present projects at the AT&T Aspire Grant Engineering Showcase

Hours of work, technology skills, and a desire to make the world a little bit better were behind the student projects presented at the AT&T Aspire Grant Engineering Showcase at the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) FabLab in April.

The projects made by teams of students from seven high schools included projects that ranged from building video games for local youth groups to creating carts to help local charities engaged in bringing food to the needy.

And while many of the projects started out using computer-assisted design software and other high-tech tools to design, they often required students to get their hands dirty and work with traditional tools to bring their designs to life.

Take the hexagonal table built by a team from the Science and Engineering Academy at Merrill F. West High School in Tracy. Using computer software made it easier to create their vision, then modify it as it evolved, the student engineers said. And it helped them know just what size each piece of wood needed to be before turning that vision into reality. But it took old-fashioned trial and error as they measured, marked, cut, assembled, sanded, and finished those pieces of wood until they became what the team wryly calls "The Eighth Wonder of the World.”

The table includes bench space to seat 18 and is fitted with removable solar-powered cellphone chargers. The team donated it all to a local church, where it is already being used.

“It’s really satisfying to see your project in use,” said Jonathan. “It’s a sturdy table.” He said he hopes to one day become an electrical engineer. Of the other teammates, Rafee wants to go into bioengineering and Brian, animation. José wants to teach, either mathematics or biology.

They worked on the project throughout their senior year, and it was partially funded through the $30,000 AT&T Aspire grant, awarded to the SJCOE to fund engineering projects developed by students from Amador, Calaveras, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne counties. Projects were reviewed by a panel and approved if they met certain criteria, including that the projects could have a positive impact on the community.

To the students building the table, it meant they had more time to work on the project instead of raising money.  “The grant helped a lot,” Brian said. And it meant they could use better-quality materials, too.

Just applying for the grant helped them focus their design early on, José said. “It helped us set a starting idea.”

Another team from West High used the grant money to buy the electronics for an arcade-style driving simulation game they donated to the Tracy Boys and Girls Club. The computer, speakers, and monitor were placed in a wooden casing they built. It’s shaped like a car, completed with donated wood and a real car seat.

The grant funded projects from seven high schools: Lathrop and Sierra high schools (Manteca Unified School District); Stagg High School (Stockton Unified School District); and John C. Kimball, Tracy, and West high schools (Tracy Unified School District). Student and teachers came to the Showcase on April 18, which was held at the SJCOE FabLab, a maker space and STEM resource for the region operated by SJCOE STEM Programs. Teachers who received grants for class projects also gave presentations at the event.

Kaysea, Brenda, and Aliza are also students at Tracy’s West High. The three students talked about a cabinet they made for a local animal shelter. They worked with the shelter director on the exact features the cabinet would have, including wheels to move it and locks to secure the medication.

The team members said they all loved animals, which is why they reached out to the animal shelter. “It seemed like an obvious, fun choice” Kaysea said. “It was something we all feel passionate about.”

And it helped keep their motivation level high throughout the process, she said.

They learned about the design software as well as building techniques to make a sturdy, high-quality piece of furniture. That’s something that gave them confidence to do a project like that in the future. But they also learned other skills, like collaboration.

“We learned how to work together,” Brenda said.

Posted: 4/26/2018