Sunday, February 19, 2012

There Really are "Civil" Engineers

The Austin chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers partnered with the Greater Austin Contractors and Engineers Association to bring "Be an Engineer for a Day" to about 970 people who visited the Austin Children's Museum  from 10:00 AM to 2:30 PM on Saturday, February 18. 

The Austin Children's Museum always provides many interactions: gears, pulleys, wheels, blocks, bricks, pipes, sorting games, agility tests, a simulated dairy, a restaurant playset, and more.  A special area is set aside for toddlers.

The ASCE brought hands-on challenges to build a tower out of newspaper, a paper airplane and a paper helicopter, a balloon-powered car, building a bridge from spaghetti and marshmellows, and more.  Kids were given a hard hat and an agenda.  As they completed each challenge, they got a sticker on their agenda. A full set of completed projects earned each of them a special t-shirt for their work.

Most of the volunteers were professional civil engineers across the spectrum in seniority and specialty.  Many were members of the ASCE student section from UT.  Working engineers earned "Professional Development Hours" credits.  

Having worked at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (2005-2006) and having served as vice president in the Daniel B. Jett student chapter of the ASCE at New Mexico State University (1978-1979),  I was stationed at the Paper Helicopters for the afternoon. They twist when they fall because the forces are unbalanced.  You can fold the body long or short, and give it long or short wings.  You can make the two wings different sizes.  For ballast, choose a large or small paperclip. The best results usually come from symmetry in the middle ranges. But you  can spend an hour making them all different ways and dropping them off a staircase.


  1. I aften wonder how the quality of the higher education system in the united states can be all that great considering the fact that the united states high school seniors score something like 20'ish in math and science compared to other countries around the world. Take a look at foreign languages in many of the countries in western europe a very large percentage of the college age population speaks a foreign language fluently come on If the students of the united staes were on trial attempting to defend the high quality education of their college students they would be laughed out of court in five minutes. Yet the united states keeps turning out more and more college grads every year. The percentage of the population with a four year college degrees keeps increasing. I would totally disagree with the notion that the united staes is such a highly educated population. Just because some college student crams for a test and gets a C does not me that they know all that much about the subject that they are studying

  2. It is pretty easy to criticize American public education: it follows the same model as Soviet agriculture. Pupils, students, teachers, and professors easily join in the complaints.

    That said, right now, I am reading THE RATIONAL OPTIMIST by Matt Ridley. Based on that, it is more profitable to see the upside. "Useless College Majors" was a discussion on the OrgTheory blog. While some do pursue passions for dance or French literature, overwhelmingly, colleges are filled with people majoring in business (accounting, managment, etc.) and technology (including science and engineering). These are the skills we want people to have in general, not so much for job training today but wealth creation tomorrow.

    The fact that 28% of Americans have four-year degrees promises a renaissance in the coming generation.

  3. "I saw this picture in the school library where someone's face was all made up of fruits and vegetables," my son said. "Would be cool to have one of those in my room."
    He and I searched for art about "vegetables" in and immediately found this one,, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, which fits the bill to the nearest pear.