What is an Engineer?  That was the question Michelle Madzelan asked 30 energetic students attending the Bright Side STEM camp. Answering her own question, she said, “An engineer is me!”

Madzelan, is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE), and a Senior Transportation Manager at ELA Group, Inc, based in Lititz, PA. She and a licensed landscape architect (RLA) from ELA Group, Hugh Cadzow, Principal and Project Manager, volunteered to teach, inform and inspire the students for “Engineering Day”.

The two week-long day camp, held at the Bright Side Opportunities Center in Lancaster, PA, was for students entering 5th through 8th grade, gave the students the opportunity to explore STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) related fields.

The Center, an outgrowth of Bright Side Baptist Church in Lancaster, PA,  is an independent non-profit social service facility that  offers a wide variety of health, social service and educational programs for people of all ages.  After school care and tutoring are offered for kindergarten through middle school aged children throughout the school year. There are after-school programs and Wednesday night programs throughout the year. In the summer, there are summer day-camps for youth.

Madzelan and Cadzow expanded the definition of Engineer and Landscape Architect throughout the day using technology and hands on activities.

During her presentation Madzelan emphasized how engineers can change the world. “Engineers dream up creative, practical solutions and work with other smart, inspiring people to invent, design, and build things that matter. They are changing the world all the time. Engineers use math, science, design and technology to solve problems, make things work and improve people’s lives. “

Teamwork and communication were among the skills she emphasized.

Madzelan was happy to spend the day with the students. It was an opportunity to share her passion for her profession.  “It opens their minds to what they could do- something interesting and engaging. I want them to see all their options for professions.”

After Madzelan led the lively group through an activity, a counselor apologized for the noise.  Madzelan replied that she was happy with the chatter – she had asked the students to think about the principles and ideas she had presented and wanted their feedback. The students were enthusiastic and had lots of opinions about their experiences during “Engineering Day”.

Cadzow’s part of the day covered the profession of landscape architecture. Students were educated about what a Landscape Architect does, and they were surprised by all of the interesting places Landscape Architects design – including city centers, school campuses, parks, plazas, housing developments and even theme parks. Cadzow stressed that this profession protects the natural environment by designing living areas that are environmentally safe.

Building a Bridge

The culminating activity for the day was to Build a Bridge. The challenge—use only an egg carton, 8 sheets of newspaper, 4 paper clips and 3 feet of tape to build a structure at least 10 inches tall that could support “vehicle load”.

The “vehicle” was a soup can, that would be rolled across the bridge. An additional test for bridges that were able to support the first soup can vehicle’s weight was to see if the bridge could support a much larger vehicle, a “truck”. The truck also doubles as a 29 ounce can of soup.

The students asked for more tape. Madzelan wouldn’t give it to them even though one student pointed out that,  “You have a big roll of tape up there”. She explained, “Part of the exercise was figuring out how to work with limited resources. It’s all about being creative and working with what you have.”

The project used only recycled materials.  They talked about recycling and what that means for the project and for the world.

The students weren’t left completely on their own, Madzelan did give some structural advice, “A piece of newspaper only weighs a gram or two, yet when it’s rolled up it can help support a load that weighs several pounds. Strength is created by rolling paper into cylinders and cylinders are incredibly strong because they disperse stress evenly throughout their entire shape.”

The project was a success and Madzelan was happy to report that four of the groups produced creative, functional designs that were indeed able to support the soup can traffic; two supported the “car”, and two supported the heavier “truck” load.

What can an engineer do?

Closing the day, Cadzow and Madzelan explained, in a broad sense, what an engineer can do and how engineers work with landscape architects to, “Change the world and make a difference. Among many other pursuits, engineers develop systems that save lives, prevent disease, reduce poverty, and protect our planet.”

Through this fun day, “engineered” by Cadzow and Madzelan, the students have new ideas of what they could be, what they could do, and the difference they could make in the world.