PITTSFIELD - STEM initiatives are gaining steam in schools of the Berkshires with the help of some new grant-funded partnerships with General Dynamics.
Last month, members of General Dynamics volunteered to run programs and do projects with students in observation of National Engineers Week.
Mike Arace, a mechanical engineer with General Dynamics, said the project was worth sparing some regular work hours.
"We need new people in the field," he said. "It's important to for kids to get experience of what an engineer does. It may not seem glamorous, but it's important work."
Last week, Arace and his colleague, Tim Wisner, worked with fifth-grade students from Stearns Elementary School to build and test miniature catapults made from kits. Teacher Susan Hollister said the project helped reinforce a previous lesson on simple machines.
Wisner said his interest in the field began at a young age, before he knew engineering was a career field.
"I always enjoyed building things from things like model car kits and with K'Nex and Legos," Wisner said.
Arace said that when he was younger, General Electric Co. partnered with the local Cub Scouts through its Explorers post. Engineers would give youngsters demonstrations of projects and applications they were working on.
"They don't do it anymore, which is kind of a shame. It got me interested," Arace said.
While working on building her catapult, fifth grader Haylee Eggleston got a real-life engineering lesson in problem solving: The pegs meant to connect pieces of the catapult frame were too big for the pre-drilled holes.
"So we had to figure how to file them down to fit," she said.
Another student, Julian Rocca, said he was surprised to see one projectile, a jelly bean, launch farther than the other one he designed, a cone shaped from a piece of modeling clay. He had thought the cone would be more aerodynamic.
After launching both, Rocca and Arace talked about the outcomes and how things like density, weight and force factor into the path of projection.
"That was good thinking though. You're going to be a good engineer someday," Arace told Rocca.
Asked later if he might want to be an engineer in the future, Rocca told The Eagle, "I don't know, but it's something to think about. Yup, something to think about."