OLEAN — Over 200 area students with an interest in engineering and manufacturing gathered at St. Bonaventure University’s Richter Center Saturday for the seventh annual Dream It Do It (DIDI) 500.
The premise, while challenging, is deceptively simple: using a predetermined set of materials, build a rubber band-powered car that will travel as straight and as far as possible. What makes the DIDI 500 uniquely demanding are the myriad wrinkles and twists thrown at the builders as they battle the clock to complete their tasks.
As students were busily planning and assembling their materials Saturday, an announcement was made that all students over a certain age must stop what they are doing and sit on the floor with their hands on their heads. Or that everyone must work silently. Or stop and do jumping jacks.
The purpose of these interruptions was to simulate the unforeseen difficulties that arise in a real manufacturing environment.
Surprise design requirements were also unveiled the day of the event to ramp up the difficulty level. This year, students were informed their cars would have to collect packing peanuts strewn over the course.
“The goal is to give them problem solving,” says Todd Palmer, SBU professor of management and adviser to the DIDI 500. In addition to the problem of putting together the car, “we’ve got workers who go on strike; only the team leader can work. We have a situation where the internet goes out and they have to be very quiet. We create scenarios like that that add a little more finesse and fun to it.”
The challenges also help prevent students from being able to prepare too much in advance.
“It prevents someone from coming in and spending the whole year on a design,” said CJ Mackey, an engineer from CUTCO assisting the teams with their planning, “Hey, the design you spent all this time on, this new requirement might make that obsolete. That’s real life. Your design requirements change constantly.”
The idea behind the DIDI 500 is to put together “the whole picture of manufacturing,” said Evelyn Sabina, Dream It Do It Western New York coordinator. “Build it, test it, race it, sell it.”
The competition was created in 2012 by students in St. Bonaventure’s ENACTUS Club, and has since grown to include teams from eight local school districts, as well as home-schooled students and girl scouts. Financial support is provided by several local businesses, such as Dresser-Rand, CUTCO, Napoleon Engineering, SolEpoxy and Eaton, which also provide engineers to assist the teams, as well as MAST and state Sen. Catherine Young, R-Olean.
Grace Garlick, DIDI intern and leader of the event in her fourth year of participation, points to the benefits of introducing students to the real-world application of classroom skills. One of the most important benefits is “exposing them to manufacturing. It shows it (engineering) as an option,” she said. “They’re using a lot of what they do in the classroom physically.”
All of this creates an environment that is fun and exciting for the participants, many of whom begin planning for it days and even months in advance.
Mackey was impressed with the enthusiasm.
“The energy that the kids, on a Saturday, bring to do something that is school related, its just amazing,” he said. “It’s fun. It makes science fun, which is what it’s supposed to do.”
Byron Ring, a student DIDI ambassador and Olean High School freshman, embraces the annual design wrinkles.
“You come up with, if we’re building a rubber band-powered car, what do we need to make a good one, and then add onto that,” he explained, noting that some challenges are more daunting than others. One previous year students were informed last minute that they would be using motors.
“That one was a disaster, because we were so set,” he said. “You’ve just kind of got to be ready for whatever.”
To add yet one more task to an already busy day, the students were asked to market their cars by creating and filming a brief commercial for their creation in attempt to sell their design to “Bonaventure Motors.” All this made for an exciting but tense few hours.
Nolan Hurlburt, member of the team “The CadLads,” upon hearing the announcement that only an hour remained of build time, exclaimed “We are definitely going to have to hustle!”