Career Day Exposes Engineering Options to Students
By: Jim Hodges
They came from Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg and James City and York
counties. High school juniors and seniors, all of them had demonstrated
capability in science, technology, engineering and math through classroom
performance, and some of them had said they wanted to be engineers.
What kind, most couldn't tell you.
It's why NASA Langley teamed with Newport News Shipbuilding and the
Peninsula Engineers Council on Thursday's Career Day at the Reid Conference
The genesis is Engineers Week and Career Day is old. But the format is new.
"NASA came to us and said they wanted to change it because it wasn't
engaging the students as much," said Jennifer McClain, who works in
education outreach with Newport News Shipbuilding. "So we got together to
think about a new strategy to make it more exciting and more fun, more
engaging for the students."
From those planning sessions came a format in which 10 volunteers from the
shipbuilders and 10 from Langley sat at 20 tables around the room at Reid.
Each talked for 15 minutes about a different engineering discipline.
More than 200 students were given lanyards with cards that directed them to
tables for 15-minute sessions, so that each student was exposed to four
At NASA tables, Luther Jenkins talked of aerospace engineering and the
planes of tomorrow, while 10 students listened.
"How would you like to sit in a plane without windows and not be able to see
outside?" he asked, citing one of the problems with acceptance of a
Langley-designed blended-wing body that would replace more conventional
"tube-and-wing" designs and offer more efficient and economical air travel.
"Think about taking off from here and flying to California, working, then
flying home the same day," Jenkins offered as an example of supersonic air
travel in the future. "Think of flying to Japan in three hours."
The point was made: The students sitting around him, now ages 16-18, would
be the ones to finish those designs and take those trips.
John Gallaborn, a naval architect at Newport News Shipbuilding, showed
buoyancy and ballast. He designs submarines and used to design aircraft
carriers and also answered questions about subs' use.
"You can take out (enemy) missiles and then disappear under the sea," he
said, standing behind a tank of water on which floated a jar with a tube
attached. It was a teaching aid to demonstrate submersion.
Jennifer Boykin, vice president of quality and excellence at Newport News
Shipbuilding, pointed out choices the students have ahead of them.
Engineers are addressing the world's water shortages and roads and bridges,
she said. "All of those types of problems that the world has, they're
looking for solutions from engineers and scientists," Boykin added. "Those
are the opportunities you will have."
She worked with aircraft carriers at the shipyard and invited the students
to imagine themselves as engineers, developing Pixar, the process that gave
the world movies such as "Shrek," "Toy Story" and "Transformers."
Boykin worked on the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis and suggested a role
in the motion picture "Transformers II" to the assembly. "If I had not been
an engineer, I could not stand here today and tell you I am partly
responsible for taking out Megatron," she said, to a titter from the
The lure for the students is a broader look at what "engineering" means.
"I want to be a nuclear or chemical engineer," said Bill Steinberger, a
senior at Hampton Christian Academy. Which, he isn't sure. And which school
he will attend?
"No clue," he said, adding that he had applied to six.
The lure for teachers is exposing their students to broader ideas about the
use of their education.
"It gives them the exposure that I can't personally give them," said Chris
Becke, who teaches advanced placement physics, among other subjects at
Warhill High School in James City County. "I¹ll teach them physics, but I
can only give them a certain number of anecdotes about what they can do with
it. Hopefully this gets them to see lots of different options that they
don't know about."
After four sessions, the students sat at the tables they occupied for
Session 4 and took on a challenge. Those at NASA tables were tasked with
building a lander out of a Styrofoam cup, marshmallows and straws. Those at
the Newport News Shipbuilding tables were given some wire and duct tape to
build a boat.
The winners were determined by finding the highest level from which a
dropped cup could survive a landing; and determining which duct tape boat
could carry the heaviest cargo without sinking.
"We want to get them working together as a team to brainstorm, build a
design, create a consensus," said Bob Benjamin of Newport News Shipbuilding.
"We will verify that design by putting on the weight. So they're planning
it, executing it and verifying the design."
All done by high school students who had met 15 minutes earlier.
In a way, that's what happened over four months for Career Day.
"At first, you go through a stormy phase," said Kimberly Graupner, who led
NASA Langley's participation and worked with Newport News Shipbuilding and
the Peninsula Engineers Council. "Everybody has an idea and everyone wants
to go in a different direction. When we finally get on the same page, this
is what you see."
The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman