Engineering in action: Open House an entertaining educational experience

Engineering Open House Boys At Work

Arizona State University’s second annual Engineering Open House drew more than 2,500 people to see – and participate in – a showcase of technology and creativity.

About 70 teams of students in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering presented dozens of exhibits and interactive demonstrations at the university’s Tempe campus on March 1 and 2.

Rockets, robots, racecars, video games, remote-control aircraft – plus the aerodynamic thrill provided by launching melons skyward with a large catapult-like trebuchet – were among highlights that entertained and educated visitors.

The first day was Field Trip Day, drawing about 1,000 youngsters from elementary and middle schools throughout the greater Phoenix area.

“We came to the Engineering Open House last year and the kids loved it. Because they had such a great time, the kids were telling us that they wanted to go back to ASU this year,” said JoAnn Domitrovich, a science teacher at the Horizon School in Glendale, who brought 67 sixth- and seventh-graders to the event.

“This is so great for them because they get to see things they have only been able to read about,” she said. “They can start to get a grasp of something like nanotechnology when they have a real, live engineering professor or student explain it to them and show them what it’s used to make.”

Teacher Shayne Sotelo brought 27 students from Faith North school in Phoenix. “The emphasis on the hands-on (exhibits) is what makes it good, and they get to interact with people who are doing the things they study about in class,” she said. “And I get ideas for simple things I can do to teach them basic things about engineering.”

Donna Male came with four fellow teachers and 145 fifth-graders from Fountain Hills Four Peaks elementary school. “For a lot of these kids this is their first experience of a college campus. They see all this cool stuff, like the trebuchet launch, and it starts the engine in them to think about college and a career,” she said.

Male was echoed by Tara Laurie from the Academy of Excellence charter school in Phoenix, who brought 40 students to the event. “They are eating this up, and that’s great because this exposes them to a career path that isn’t always on the map for kids in some socio-economic groups,” Laurie said.

The 20 or so sixth- and eighth-graders with teacher Connie Burd from Chandler Christian Academy found plenty to attract their interest. “They can do things here that we don’t have the resources to do in a small school,” Burd said. “They were interested in everything. They especially liked the trebuchet and the materials lab, and some of them didn’t want to leave the computer science exhibit.”

About 30 of teacher Diana Ballout’s students from R.E. Simpson School in west Phoenix immersed themselves in a learning exercise in which they got to propel marshmallows at a target with launching devices they made using plastic spoons and rubber bands.

“It’s a lot of fun for them, but the big thing is they begin to make the connection between the science and math they study in school and all these different fields of engineering,” Ballout said. “They see all the things that something like engineering makes happen in the world and how different kinds of people they can relate to are doing these things.”

The combined efforts of about 250 ASU engineering students, aided by more than 75 fellow students and engineering schools faculty and staff, went into organizing and staffing the event.  Sponsorship support came from Raytheon, M3Engineering and Technology, and Bowman Consulting.

Watch a video of the Engineering Open House.

On March 2 it was Family Day at the Open House, drawing another sizable crowd of parents and their children. They also took in attractions at partner events on campus – the VEX Robotics Arizona State Championship tournament, Night of the Open Door and Emerge 2013.

Sponsored by Microchip Technology and ASU’s engineering schools, the VEX tournament featured 20 middle school and high school teams and four teams of college students that were the top performers from among almost 70 teams throughout the state that competed in qualifying tournaments.

Onlookers gathered to see the teams demonstrate their technological skills through feats performed by robots the students designed, built and programmed. Two middle school teams from Cave Creek and the Scottsdale Community College team performed well enough in their divisions to advance to the VEX Robotics World Championship in Anaheim, Calif., in April.

Drawing on the pursuits of the university’s faculty and students in the natural sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, Night of the Open Door, organized by ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Science, combined with the engineering schools to give several thousand visitors more than 100 activities to see and do.

People got a trip around outer space via a large-screen, 3-D theater presentation, they examined microbes, toured biomedical research labs, tested their math skills, learned about the latest developments in video and digital technologies and space exploration, viewed extensive insect and meteorite collections, and saw demonstrations of physics, chemistry and engineering in action.

Watch a video of Night of the Open Door activities.

Emerge 2013 provided a melding of art and technology in an evening festival featuring music, dance, a poetry slam and theatrical performances on outdoor spaces.

Watch a brief video of scenes from Emerge.

Emerge, Night of the Open Door and the Engineering Open House were all part of the Arizona SciTech Festival, a series of more the 200 events that make up a state-wide celebration of science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM).

Check the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering website at for information about upcoming events.