ELYRIA — With schools closed Monday for Presidents Day, Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems invited children to come experience what their parents and grandparents do during the sixth annual Discover Engineering.
The event is part of the DiscoverE (formerly National Engineers Week Foundation) Engineers Week program. Not coincidentally, National Engineers Week, or EWeek, is Feb. 17 to 23 this year and celebrates engineers and engineering careers.
Besides an overview of the many fields of engineering, the young visitors got demonstrations of brake board and trucks, tours, hands-on activities and lunch.
The children in grades five through nine met with engineers, learned firsthand how to design and make circuits and other materials integral to Bendix’s products, which enhance safety in trucks and cargo traffic.
In one room, the middle school children designed a balloon-powered car using recyclable materials including plastic water bottles, masking tape, paper straws and biodegradables.
Just like with real-life engineering projects, they were given a budget to “buy” materials, then design, build and test their cars, said John Paletta, international material data system coordinator.
As with many engineering projects, there may be testing and retesting involved, because “what you might think would be a great idea” might not work and send you back to the design phase, he said.
Such projects also might appeal, Paletta said, to children who like to “take apart stuff at home” to see how it works, like he did when he was young. Add to that high-end soldering, software and problem-solving and there might be a hook for future engineers and technicians.
That National Engineers Week coincides with Presidents Day is no coincidence, said Maria Gutierrez, Bendix’s director of corporate responsibility and sustainability.
President George Washington, who as a civilian worked as a surveyor, is considered “America’s first engineer,” she said.
She said this event focused mainly on growing interest in STEM and STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers, while STEAM adds Art and Design — careers among middle school students. Bendix continues to support robotics teams and school science and technology labs across Lorain County for that reason, and the company also has a “shadow” program for high school students to follow engineers around for a day, Gutierrez said.
“STEM and STEAM are important to us,” said Bendix spokeswoman Barbara Gould.
And making engineering fun means “you learn and you don’t know you’re learning,” Gutierrez said.