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ASU engineering students develop exhibits for Arizona Science Center, Mesa Arts Center

MinuteSketch team
January 08, 2014

People lined up to try out an interactive exhibit at the Arizona Science Center on a Saturday morning in December, excited at the prospect of manipulating a model Mars Rover over the planet’s surface. Nearby, participants cheered as they directed laser beams through a maze of mirrors to reach a target.

Watching anxiously were teams of sophomore engineering majors in the College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) at Arizona State University who had designed 17 exhibits for the Science Center. Much of their final grades hinged on how the exhibits performed, how well they taught a science or math concept and whether participants were engaged by them.

Across town at the Mesa Arts Center (MAC), another 12 teams of students unveiled interactive kiosks outside a children’s theater performance, hoping the arts-oriented activities would grab the attention of theater-goers.

One of the day’s biggest hits was a giant “piano wall,” with hanging keys connected to an electrical keyboard that would light up and play a tone when pushed. “That’s awesome,” said one participant. “I like the fact that more than one person can play at a time,” commented another.

Adam Carberry, assistant professor of engineering in CTI, helped develop the partnership with the Science Center three years ago as a means of combining community outreach with hands-on learning for engineering students. The MAC came onboard this year to expand these efforts.

“Every semester, our students at every level are working on real-world, applied projects,” he says. “In this course they have their first opportunity to build something for a client, which is a very different scenario from designing for themselves.”

About 200 students taught by Carberry, assistant professor Odessa Dalrymple and professor Tom Sugar worked during the latter part of the semester on their projects, first touring each venue and meeting with staff members to learn their needs and expectations. Each team was provided a small budget.

Students designing kiosks worked with the executive director of the MAC, in addition to the project coordinator and the original architect. Those designing science exhibits made their initial pitches to Chris Heller and Sari Custer of the Science Center last month, gaining feedback before their final presentations.

The Arizona Science Center liked five of the displays so much that they asked to keep them for a while. The arts center has a grant to develop ways to bring new patrons onto the MAC campus from the future light rail stop in downtown Mesa.

“It’s likely that seeds from these projects will influence some of the creative choices we make as we develop interactive art experiences for the new gathering space at the north end of Mesa Arts Center,” says Cindy Ornstein, executive director of the MAC.

“We feel that collaborating with ASU students can generate new ideas, put us in touch with what may be interesting to our younger audiences and help engage students think about how their area of expertise can intersect with the arts and creative activity. We really appreciate the creativity and hard work of the students.”

Another popular activity for patrons of the MAC was a MinuteSketch, a round table divided into four quadrants which were separated by walls. Individuals at each quadrant drew for 15 seconds before a bell sounded and the table rotated 90 degrees, giving them another 15 seconds to work on someone elses’s sketch. After a full minute, the completed sketch came back to its original artist.

“Polytechnic programs are unique because they engage students in designing a project and creating a product every semester,” says Dalrymple. “This course is human-centered, so they must understand how people learn, then develop ways to teach a concept. It helps to reinforce their own learning.”

The CTI engineering program is experiencing major growth, having expanded from two sections of the sophomore EGR 201 course to five this year, Carberry says. He hopes to develop new community partnerships to provide additional opportunities for student design projects.

Many of his students are Intel employees, technicians who are working toward a bachelor of science degree.

“That’s what’s fun about these projects,” Carberry says. “I have 18-year-olds as well as students in their 40s and 50s, which makes for a very rich group experience. The younger students brought their parents to the presentations, while the older students and the faculty brought their spouses and children.”

Tim Schaeken, an engineering junior from Fountain Hills, said his team found it revealing to watch people at the MAC control an interactive matrix of water jets, which was their project.

“It allowed us to gauge how the community would actually respond to our project,” he says. “It was definitely a learning experience. I was able to work on areas I lacked in throughout the semester, as well as improve the ones I was already competent in.”