Fairfield University engineering students are expected to “wow” judges during the Walk on Water design challenge on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 1:30 p.m.
Considered a “rite of passage” for first-year engineers according to Associate Director of Community and Public Relations Robert Piazzaroli, this annual competition grants 16 groups of five students the opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge they have achieved in their “Fundamentals of Engineering” class.
Groups will race hand-made boats across the length of the Leslie C. Quick Jr. Recreation Complex pool in three rounds consisting of a first heat, semi-final and final heat round. Moreover, their boat must be operated with a walking or running motion above the water and by one team member only.
The race will be judged by four engineering professors at Fairfield University: John Drazan, Ph.D., Isaac Macwan, Ph.D., Gigi Belfadel, Ph.D. and Elif Kongar, Ph.D. Kongar, who has taken a strong lead in activity execution, expressed why she believes an event like this one is so important.
Kongar states, “Incorporating design and systems thinking into the course allows the first-year engineering students to become active participants in the learning process”. Further, she credited WOW for providing its participants the chance “to build a sense of identity within their chosen discipline, to form learning communities with their peers and to become acclimated to the activities that shape the engineering professions.”
Aside from its hands-on involvement, this semester-long project focuses on engineering design and analysis, data management, ethical decision-making and classic teamwork. It is cultivated as an outlet for students to transform their classroom understanding into real-world implementation through creative and pluralistic thinking.
In accordance with its continuation since 2012, past participants have shared high remarks regarding their own WOW experiences. Brigid Protzmann ‘23, who competed pre-Covid and won both her first and final heat round, had mainly positive things to say about the activity.
“It was one of my favorite experiences in engineering,” she said. “I am so glad that the department brought it back this year. I still have my victory screwdriver that I received as a prize for winning.”
Although Protzmann conveyed that the project restrictions discouraged her team’s design process, she added that it forced them to think more creatively and, in hindsight, deemed it a positive facet.
Judge Belfadel affirmed this year’s judging criteria will highlight safety, creativity, performance, and Engineering Design Cycle. Elements such as design novelty, high-quality craftsmanship and compliance with competition rules will be closely examined.
Belfadel also acknowledged the good and the bad of previous performances. On the one hand, she recognized the innovation of a previous team who created a paddle-boat-type contraption from bicycle parts.
However, she also lamented some unhappy endings.
“I recall a team’s device breaking apart in the middle of the race,” she said. “I also recall several operators falling into the pool.”
Circling back to Protzmann’s point, the challenge will consist of ten restrictions. Some of these points state that the operator must race from a standing position, the operator must propel themselves solely from their feet or legs and rely on no detached accessory and, evidently, that the boat must fit in a single regulation-sized swimming lane.
Groups are also limited to a $200 budget for materials. Being so, they are encouraged to utilize spare, repurposed and recyclable parts for their finished products.
Cardboard, paper and bicycle frames are three materials overtly banned from use. Nonetheless, beach balls, PVC pipe frames, a human hamster wheel, a foot pump and ski-like projection have all found themselves on boats in years past.
Before the main event, each team must present its design processes to the judges. They will also deliver their presentations to welcomed members of the Wakeman Boys and Girls Club, a new addition to service-learning toward this annual competition.
Kongar believes this element of service will itself serve the confidence of participants.
“This experience builds confidence in the first-year students and allows them to practice their communication skills in an environment in which they are also serving as role models and mentors,” Kongar said.
Beyond this belief, she stated that such an aspect can be applied to further engineering programs to aid in the communication skills of its undergraduates.
These presentations will take place in the School of Engineering’s brand-new Innovation Annex.
The Fundamentals of Engineering course is required for all freshman engineering majors at Fairfield University. It embodies goals to establish students with a passion for engineering, expand skills crucial to the profession and develop engineering professionalism.
Each year, engineering faculty make sure to gather feedback from students and experienced colleagues to improve the course’s activity and obtain greater effectiveness. In its earlier years, students expressed discontent with the lack of “transparent evaluation.” Now, a simple check sheet-style rubric has been developed.
Other complaints have consisted of more easily-provided materials and tools as well as increased time to work on the project.
At the close of Fairfield’s Fall 2019 semester, a WOW-centered survey was conducted via Blackboard Learn by Belfadel and her colleagues Michael Zabinski, Ph.D., engineering professor at Fairfield University, and Ryan Munden, Ph.D., associate dean of engineering and assistant professor of electrical engineering at Fairfield University until 2018.
The survey was issued to receive student feedback and information about the event, and each class section of Fundamentals of Engineering that semester participated.
Results accounted that 78.66% of participants voted that the WOW project increased their interest in engineering. 57.33% said that WOW’s hands-on experience left them more confident in succeeding with engineering. And, 68.00% said that WOW provided them with greater motivation to continue to pursue a degree in engineering.
In light of its criticisms, a profound feature of this project is allowing students to see their own work come to life. One past student, whose response was taken from the 2019 anonymous survey, claimed it was rewarding to “watch something I built make it across the length of the pool.”
In another anonymous response from the survey, a student disclosed how this project expanded their passion for building and designing. “I have always loved to build things, so I was very excited to do the Walk on Water project.”
Put plainly, the activity is widely popular among its students.
In prior WOW races, spectators have packed the RecPlex pool bleachers. Fairfield University members as well as outsiders remain eager to witness such an exciting activity among just as eager engineering students.
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