Penn State Fayette hosts annual engineering event for area middle-schoolers

The 24th annual E-Days engaged local kids in STEM activities developed by Penn State Fayette students.
Davon White, first-year chemical engineering student; David Meredith, associate professor of Engineering; and Gabrielle Beatty, sophomore mechanical engineering student.

From left: Davon White, first-year chemical engineering student; David Meredith, associate professor of engineering; and Gabrielle Beatty, sophomore mechanical engineering student.

Credit: Penn State Fayette

LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus invited five local school districts to the 24th annual Engineering Days (E-Days) event on Dec. 9 for a day of demonstrations and activities.

“The purpose of this event is to expose gifted students to some of the technology associated with a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics),” said David Meredith, associate professor of engineering. He has facilitated the event since 1995.

The event engages first-year engineering students currently enrolled at Fayette in the design of hands-on activities for middle schoolers.

“We challenge them to come up with safe, fun, and educational activities for a young audience,” said Nathaniel Bohna, associate teaching professor of engineering.

This year’s theme explored the technology of wind turbines. “Civil engineers design the foundation and tower of a wind turbine, and aerospace engineers design the aerodynamic turbine blade. Mechanical engineers design the gearbox, while electrical engineers work on the generator,” said Meredith. “Not too many projects have this level of collaboration on the same concept.”

Davon White, a first-year student studying chemical engineering, attended the event as a middle schooler at Laurel Highlands.

“I remember Professor Meredith did a demonstration in which he put liquid nitrogen in my Pepsi. It turned into a slushy instantly,” said White. “I started to take an interest in engineering — I thought it was really cool and I wanted to know more.”

Gabrielle Beatty, a sophomore mechanical engineering student from Uniontown, remembered her experience at E-Days in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

“The Van De Graaff generator and the liquid-nitrogen lollipops and marshmallows were unforgettable,” said Beatty, who transferred to Fayette from the University of Arizona. “I think those demonstrations really piqued my interest in the field and helped me feel at home here.”

Fayette students demonstrate the concept of yaw with a bicycle wheel.

Penn State Fayette students demonstrate the concept of "yaw," using a bicycle wheel.

Credit: Penn State Fayette

To prepare for their demonstration of gear ratios, Fayette students visited the Integrated Power Services (IPS) maintenance facility in Indiana, Pa. “They got to see large generators and motors of all types opened up for repair. Then, they got to meet the wind-turbine technicians and try on their safety harnesses,” said Meredith.

To demonstrate yaw control, participants were instructed to spin a sand-filled bicycle tire while seated in a swivel chair, using the angular momentum to rotate themselves.

Participants also had the opportunity to make their own concrete to take home; operate a 2,500-pound load cell — provided by Budd Scale in Smock, Pennsylvania — to understand how steel structures withstand wind; and, using safety equipment, scale a ladder for a photo opportunity. Some schools opted for additional tours of campus facilities, as well as Laurel Machining, located near the campus.

And, of course, the beloved liquid nitrogen and Van der Graaf generator made appearances, said Meredith.

A total of 94 students from Albert Gallatin, Frazier, Laurel Highlands, Mount Pleasant, and Southmoreland middle schools were in attendance.