hands-on-equations_440x100A one day engineering competition inspires students to succeed by creating incentive and opportunity to share ideas.  About 400 high school and middle school students swarmed at UC Santa Cruz’s engineering building to enthusiastically participate.

The annual MESA Day competition drew local schools as well as schools from Soledad, Salinas, Pajaro Valley and Monterey school districts for a day filled with math quizzes and hands-on events. Many of the students brought projects and designs that were months in the making, said Alexandria Leckliter, director of the MESA program, which is short for mathematics engineering science achievement.

“They have been working at their home schools on these projects and today is a chance for them to get to test them and see how they compare against their peers,” she said.

The projects center around engineering items from ordinary objects. An age-old project was how to create a design that would protect an egg after it was dropped from a certain distance. Another project sought to harness the energy of a mousetrap to move a small vehicle.

“It’s very technical,” Leckliter said. “A lot of engineering and a lot of design go into it.”hands-on-equations_440x100

Issac Holguin and Jessica Yescas, 17-year-old seniors at Soledad High School, designed a prosthetic arm to perform various tasks such as screwing a nut onto a bolt and throwing a ball across the room.

The arm was the result of several weeks of brainstorming after school, Holguin said.

“Just the physics behind it, you know what I mean?,” he said. “It’s more than just the arm. It’s understanding it.”

In competition, the duo was each given a chance to lift three bolts of varying sizes into corresponding holes in a wooden board and then attach nuts onto them.

While it sounds easy in theory, using the arm they engineered, the task seemed painstakingly difficult as each person carefully lifted each bolt and tried to insert it into the hole.

The team came up with a new design after a earlier design didn’t mean the competition requirements, Yescas said.

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