“Don’t you hate it when...?” was the premise Jimmy Bollman posed to his engineering design and development capstone class.
The 24 seniors at Francis Tuttle Technology Institute in Oklahoma City had to fill in an answer to the deceptively simple prompt. Then they had a year to come up with a solution.
Their projects culminated last week, when the institute held a three-hour showcase to display the students’ work. Each of the nine groups displayed a working prototype and explained the process by which they created and refined their projects.
One group built an unmanned drone that would allow firefighters to better track a raging wildfire. A second team designed a wheelchair lift that would reduce back injuries to health care providers when they lift patients.
“We’re very proud of these students,” Bollman said. “These projects require a tremendous time commitment, both in and out of class. Our goal is to get them to start thinking like engineers.”
This was the 11th showcase, and it marked a first occurrence at the school.
‘Had to do something’
This year, one of the groups applied for a patent for its invention, an inexpensive, effective tornado shelter that would fit inside individual classrooms.
“We saw the devastation at Plaza Towers after the May 20 tornado last year and realized we had to do something,” said Ryan Bernardy, one of the three students who worked on the Tornado Instashelter. “The larger shelters are very expensive, and that’s why a lot of schools don’t have them.”
Bernardy, with teammates Ryan Conser and Michael Nilson, designed and built a fold-out shelter that will attach to the walls of a classroom and can be assembled in less than a minute. With help from Bernardy’s father, they applied for a patent, which is pending.
“We were excited about that,” Nelson said. “Our shelter also has several other advantages over traditional shelters. It would also help protect students from an armed intruder, and since it’s an aboveground shelter, there’s no danger of flooding.”
Working with NASA
While most of the groups focused on terrestrial matters, three teams turned their eyes to the skies and applied to work on projects for NASA. Last year, Francis Tuttle joined NASA’s Project HUNCH, High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware, and the projects this year were refinements on the work of previous students.
One of the NASA projects focused on an issue that affects astronauts even when they return to Earth.
Aboard the International Space Station, the weightless atmosphere causes muscle atrophy and bone density loss that can leave returning astronauts in wheelchairs. Resistance exercise is the best preventive measure, but even training three hours a day isn’t enough to fully ward off the adverse effects of a space stay.
Connor Mann, Derek Richards and Matthew Samuelson worked on a design for a suit for astronauts to wear in space that would provide constant resistance for the wearer. Elastic bands sewn in key areas over the suit provide the muscle stress needed for exercising.
“We had several video conferences with NASA throughout the year as our project progressed,” Richards said. “Muscle loss is a big problem for them, and it’s something they want to work on.”
The senior capstone class at Francis Tuttle is part of Program Lead The Way, a nonprofit dedicated to providing STEM education to students who plan to pursue careers in engineering. An overwhelming majority of the capstone seniors said they plan on pursuing a degree in an engineering field. Even those with other plans said they know that the critical thinking skills they have learned will take them far in life.