General Dynamics engineers help Reid students take flight

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Photo Gallery | General Dynamics Engineers Week workshop at Reid Middle School

PITTSFIELD — It's estimated that some 2 million men and women are working in the field of engineering in the United States. But there's always room for more.

That's why, throughout the year, there are special programs like this month's Engineers Week, engineering writing and design competitions from pre-kindergarten through Grade 12 and up through college to try to inspire and educate young people about the trade.

In Massachusetts, students and teachers will be expected to take a deeper dive into the STEM fields of technology and engineering in the coming year, as the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Jan. 26 adopted a new set of state science and technology/engineering standards.

General Dynamics is doing its part through outreach by offering multiple programs, between now and April, in local schools from Pittsfield to Adams, ranging from a "Girl to Engineering Day" being planned for middle school students to the growing Berkshire County High School Robotics Competition slated to have hundreds of participants on April 16.

On Friday, 90 students in Mary Yarmosky's science classes at Reid Middle School were given a lesson in flight design by a team of General Dynamics mechanical engineers, led by Michael Arace. Together, they put a new spin on the paper airplane, by giving it a simple balsa wood frame and a propeller that can be wound up by a rubber band.

"Engineers not only make new things but they're taking old things and making them better," said mechanical engineer Kyle Sleggs during a class presentation.

Yarmosky worked with Arace to pick the lesson plan. The students are currently studying how potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, once set into motion. They've also studied elastic energy — potential energy stored by compressing and stretching an object within a mechanic system, like a tightly or loosely wound rubber band used to propel a paper plane.

Arace and his fellow engineers started each class they worked with by showing them the finished project, causing students faces to beam with the prospect of sending their own planes whizzing through the hallways and up into the air.

But, as engineers know, there are a lot of variables working against flight, and things like precision, flight conditions and controlling other variables greatly matter.

And so it dawned on students, like seventh-grader Trinity Pettijohn, that engineering is as exciting as it is challenging.

"This is so fun," she said, while gluing the joints of the wing tips of her plane, "but it's also complicated." She said it was nice to have experts in the classroom showing the students how it's done.

Arace and the other half-dozen engineers and assisting teachers circulated throughout the room, working like pit crews to help the middle schoolers finish their planes.

"This is really, really cool," said seventh-grader Joshua Meaney as he watched his classmate Carlia Post's plane fly through the hallway and curve into an open stairwell. Meaney then wound his propeller a few extra times in hopes of giving his plane more fuel.

"Out of today, I hope they get the idea that they're putting some of the concepts they're learning in class into building a fun example of that, and that they actually get to use it. That's what engineering's all about," said General Dynamics' Kevin Haynes.

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.


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