MPC engineering program brings interactive STEM activities to students

Community News

Engineering Adventures Cogs with photosMPC's Marketing and Transportation Engineering (M&TE) organization has been hosting interactive learning activities in the realm of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for hundreds of Findlay, Ohio, and nearby Hancock County middle school students over the past four years through its Engineering Adventures program. The program has grown to include nearly all of the middle schools in Hancock County.

Created in 2014, the mission of Engineering Adventures is to inspire middle school students to pursue interests in math and science by showing students the value of science and technology in today’s society. M&TE engineers and project control specialists strive to show middle school students how a STEM career could empower them to impact the health, happiness and safety of our world.

The program includes two half-day sessions. During the first session, M&TE employees host a presentation to introduce the STEM topic of the faculty’s choice that best aligns with their current curriculum. This has included Conservation of Energy, Newton’s Laws of Motion, and Simple Circuits with Ohm’s Law, to name a few. The activity is introduced and then the students are shown how to apply basic concepts of engineering, such as evaluating the variables of an equation to optimize their design.

As part of the presentation, M&TE staff provides insight into their daily roles and how they apply STEM principles to design, construction and planning. They also take the opportunity to have a discussion about energy, the different units, and make several comparisons with regard to energy density of various sources. As a close to the presentation, the volunteers host a question-and-answer session about topics ranging from their educational background to their current careers.

“It is great to be in the classroom and see the students giving strong consideration to a STEM path during our activity,” said Russ Tindall, project engineer II and coordinator of the Engineering Adventures program. “It’s fulfilling when you observe students having that eureka moment - overcoming a challenge with their design. I believe that experience is the spark that ignites the passion for problem solving and leads to a career in engineering.”

During the second session, the students are divided into teams with the goal of designing, planning and building one of the selected STEM activities. For Newton’s Laws of Motion, the students are tasked with building a roller coaster out of pipe foam insulation, one chair and one table. The design must account for three marbles of different masses that simulate full, average and empty roller coaster cars. The activity includes a scoring rubric that provides a friendly competition amongst the students. In addition to the build, the students must complete a packet that exercises the mathematics of Newton’s Laws by calculating the maximum potential and kinetic energy of their roller coaster as well as plotting the velocity of the marble at different points on the ride.

The M&TE employees also take the time to connect how this relates to MPC’s business, comparing pipelines and terminal piping to roller coasters as liquid flows up and down through facilities.

“I enjoy working with the students and watching them discover their ingenuity,” said Project Engineer II Travis Schafer, who has volunteered for several activities. “It is fun promoting the competition amongst the students and listening to them collaborate on strategies to win.”

“I love this program,” said Project Engineer II Kathryn Holbrook, who has served as an instructor. “We didn’t have a STEM activity like this when I was in middle school. We are able to tap that creativity pocket in the students so they understand the concept, ask good questions and have that light bulb moment where it all comes together.”