There's nothing like a little friendly competition to help students get their creative juices flowing.
Each semester, students in the Foster Family Center for Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program at UC Merced work on projects for local non-profit organizations. In doing so, they earn academic credit, gain real world engineering experience and develop a host of skills that will serve them well in their future careers all while helping a community organization.
At the end of the semester, the EPICS teams do a final presentation that describes the work each did during the semester.
That part of the program, said EPICS program manager Rosalina Aranda, helps fuel the students drive. The competition element for the presentations really helps get the students even more involved and invested, she said.
This semester, the fall 2009 EPICS teams gave presentations highlighting the work each did with their non-profit organization. A panel of judges selected the top three teams and the winners received prize money that will be added to their team's budget next semester.
Taking first place and earning an additional $1,000 toward their spring 2010 budget was the team that worked with the California State Mining Mineral Museum in Mariposa . The museum asked the team to develop an economical and ecological lighting system that provides better lighting than conventional methods. The students installed a Hybrid Solar Natural Daylight system, which brings concentrated sunlight into a building and then integrates it into a LED lighting system at a fraction of the cost of electricity.
Second place and $500 went to Team Get S.E.T. (Science, Engineering and Technology) for their work with the Merced County Office of Education. That group designed science curriculum for K-12 students to teach them physics, chemistry and biology principles as they relate to engineering.
The Castle Science and Technology Center team earned third place and $250. That team designed and built an interactive nanotechnology exhibit for middle school students that will eventually be displayed at the Atwater facility.
While each EPICS team has an advisor who monitors their progress, the projects are led by the students themselves.
The skills they develop while participating in the program are invaluable, Aranda said. They learn how to present their work, time management skills, teamwork and more. Teamwork is especially important because in the real world, it is so important to know how to work well with others.