ST. BONAVENTURE — Local high school and middle school students will once again use cardboard, plastic cups, pipe cleaners and yarn to engineer rubber-band-powered cars next week as part of the sixth annual Dream It Do It 500, but some of them should expect an added twist.
While not wanting to give away the surprise, tight-lipped organizers from both Dream It Do It Western New York and St. Bonaventure University's business club, ENACTUS, offered a tidbit that a physics component will be added to this year’s competition for veteran participants, in addition to the usual engineering and marketing aspects.
“There are quite a few students that have done the Dream It Do It 500 for a few years in a row and we thought we’d add a little special twist,” said Evelyn Sabina, DIDI-WNY project coordinator.
Students and faculty from St. Bonaventure’s Department of Physics will aid with the event, which will take place Nov. 18 in the university's Richter Center and still has openings for students in grades 7-12 to participate. Sabina said organizers wanted to include more disciplines and departments of the university to the event, which has grown from 44 students in 2012 to 202 students last year. Other DIDI chapters across the country, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida have created their own versions of the Dream It Do It 500 after the event was recognized as a “best practice” by The Manufacturing Institute in 2015.
Nick Martel, a St. Bonaventure physics major and one of several students helping organize the event, said the inclusion of physics students will help get them “out of our cave.”
“The strength of the program has always been that it combines engineering with the business. … We do have that tendency as physics people to not at all want to touch businesses or anything, but programs like this really encourage us to do other things,” he said.
In addition to the separate physics division, there will also be a separate division for 59 local Girl Scouts members. The partnership with Girl Scouts is part of DIDI-WNY’s effort to get more girls participating in the event and interested in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Just under 40 percent of the 202 student participants last year were female.
“It’s still not where we’d like it to be,” Sabina said. “By bringing in the Girl Scouts … this will hopefully increase our participation by girls and make girls aware of the possibilities for them.”
More of the local engineers and technicians who serve as team mentors will be female this year, she added.
The competition requires students to flex their engineering and marketing skills, as they must work in teams of four to create a rubber-band-powered car that can travel the farthest distance.
“Sometimes kids’ car won’t go more than an inch off the starting line, but other times they’re clearing the track and going all the way across the basketball court,” said Hannah Pingelski, a St. Bonaventure student and one of the presidents of ENACTUS. “They’re very innovative. We gave them water bottles to drink for their lunch and they were using the caps as wheels.”
One of the goals of the competition is to get students interesting in pursuing a career in a STEM field.
“If you just look around within a couple miles of where we are, a lot of the industry here is manufacturing — Dresser-Rand, SolEpoxy, Cutco, so it really gives kids an opportunity to see some of the possibilities for employment that might be right in their backyard,” said Christian Gravius, co-event coordinator of this year’s Dream It Do It 500 and one of the vice presidents of ENACTUS.
Fellow ENACTUS vice president and co-event coordinator Makenzie Evans said the Dream It Do It 500 is also beneficial for St. Bonaventure students, who get both engineering and business experience.
“For the people helping, we’re getting more responsibility and roles where we have to actually take charge and do things like in the real world when we get out there,” she said.
Organizers are still looking for more participants, who can sign up online at sites.google.com/site/dreamitdoit500.
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)