Last week, the College of Engineering hosted the annual MESA National Engineering Design Competition at Temple University. Students, teachers, and parents came from across the country to North Broad to test their projects and learn. This was the first time MESA Pennsylvania, run by Dr. Jamie Bracey, hosted the event.
MESA (for Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement) is a national partnership of groups from 11 states, focused on providing STEM education and opportunities to students of all ages. This year, Deming, New Mexico, a community near the Mexico border, won the high school level. Mendota, California, a small town near Fresno, earn middle school top honors.
Students competed at the local and state levels for the chance to showcase their work in Philadelphia. This year's assignment was a low-cost prosthetic hand. Teams designed the hand, created a presentation poster, and wrote technical papers to explain their methodology. Judges, including College of Engineering faculty Dr. Richard Cohen, Dr. Haijun Liu, and Dr. Philip Udo-Inyang, graded the students' presentations.
The highlight of the week's events came Thursday, as each team demonstrated their devices. Both levels competed in two tests. Object relocation required the hand to pick items up off a tabletop, place them in a bin, and then return to their previous positions. Distance accuracy measured the ability to toss bean bags onto a scoring field. The high school teams also participated in dexterity, placing three bolts through holes in a wooden board and fastening nuts. Each operator had a hand and forearm covered to attach the prosthetic hand. Teams moved the hand with electric signals, via a mouthpiece or foot pedal.
The atmosphere during the competition was exciting and livestreamed. The audience cheered and waved small state flags. One group went at a time, rotating from each station, sometimes convening to go over strategy. An emcee introduced each group before their attempts, while others conducted on-camera interviews.
The finalists brought unique designs and strategies to the competition. While teams aimed to win, sharing knowledge pervaded the events. Students from Oregon noted their approach differed from others. "Our grouper beams conform around the object they grasp," said Phillip Zaerr from Mt. Tabor Middle School in Portland. "It's this A-shape, and it's got a bunch of cross pieces. When you apply a load to it, the load goes down slightly and then the outer edge of it, goes up and curls around the object." His group finished second in poster presentation and object relocation.
The team from Deming is familiar with success. They defended their overall championship. The team planned for the finals and executed the strategy. "I think the biggest advantage for having the idea in our heads to defend the title was we came back even more fierce, even more competitive," said rising senior Antoni Valeri. "We knew teams would be gunning for us. That gave us more drive to be the best we could be."
The champs from Mendota probably had the toughest road to Philadelphia. MESA California is the largest single-state program in the country, with 18,000 students. Mendota faced stiff competition to qualify and logged 500 labor hours before the finals. "I think what led us to winning was our practice, our determination, and how long we worked," said Samed Obaid. "I think how we solve out questions and try each other's ideas, try to make it better, got it done for us."
Dr. Bracey is known for her energy and enthusiasm for MESA and STEM initiatives. Her passion was matched during the awards ceremony by MESA Executive Director James Dorsey, who also leads Washington State MESA. Dorsey congratulated each team who earned top-three recognition. He also offered high praise for Dr. Bracey and her team of student volunteers. Recent engineering graduates Gina Bloise, BE '17, and Myisha Foy, CE '17, helped lead judging and event coordination, while mechanical engineering majors Kamerin Goins provided transportation leadership and Spencer Thompson developed the prototype for next year's national event.
"The students were excellent drivers and got great support from Dr. Bracey and Temple," Dorsey said after the awards ceremony, as students exchanged mementos. "The undergraduates and recent graduates were amazing, in terms of delivering multi-day events, such as the MESA Day Challenge, transportation, housing, meals, logistics of setting this up. The speakers were phenomenal. I've been to 20 of these, and this is very well done."
Temple will host the 2018 MESA NEDC.