National Engineering Week is upon us, once again. From February 19-25 this year, the week will celebrate the positive contributions engineers make to society and is a catalyst for outreach across the country to kids and adults alike.
As part of this week, the Illinois Valley Community College (IVCC) hosts an annual competition designed to help students get a taste of engineering. This popular event, engages students of all ages in various aspects of STEM studies by bringing together groups to craft and develop model cars that are judged on design, speed, and creativity, among other categories.
And, as the name reveals, what makes this program unique is that all of the automotive entries are made entirely of edible food.
“We knew that designing vehicles from food would challenge students to solve problems and be creative, skills that are critical in [the field of] engineering,” IVCC’s Dorene Perez recently told mywebtimes.com. As Program Coordinator of Computer Aided Engineering and Design at IVCC, Perez is one of the contest organizers who first introduced the event to IVCC in 2006. Since then, the IVCC team has not only overseen seven contests (winning entries have included a cucumber-based vehicle that broke track records for speed and a Twinkie-mobile that nabbed design kudos) but have gone on to put together a “how to” handbook and led national workshops to encourage and assist other educators and schools in developing and launching their own Edible Car Contests. Besides cucumbers and Twinkies, car bodies entered in the contest have been constructed from hot dogs, ice cream cones and a loaf of bread, while wheels have been crafted from pinwheel pasta, cookies, Moon Pies and carrot pieces.
The contest has included as many as 130 students on 35 different teams, providing a wide range of learning opportunities, from calculating ratios, wheel sizes, body size and weight for the vehicle to calculating the car’s cost effectiveness and determining its nutritional value. Following the contest’s conclusion, students analyze and discuss both why the car performed as it did in speed or distance and how these features could have been improved.
Whether it’s velocity, acceleration or nutrition, the opportunity to introduce theoretical concepts is a key component of the event. Assessments have included the wheel performance of the Oreo cookie and the aerodynamic properties of miniature marshmallows. (Student designers of last year’s winning entry in the speed category, the aforementioned cucumber model, gained a significant advantage by keeping the car’s peppermint stick axels wrapped in plastic to protect them from moisture until racing time. They also made use of cooking spray on the axels go gain their final competitive edge.)
IVCC has been nominated for a prestigious 2012 Bellwether Award for the Edible Car Contest. The national award recognizes outstanding and innovative community college programs. The award finalists were recognized at the Community College Futures Assembly in Orlando, Florida just last weekend. The 2012 Edible Car Contest will be held at IVCC on February 22.