Middle school students challenged during VIVA Engineering
Posted: 02/22/2013
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Competition was fierce when more than 200 middle school students visited The University of Texas-Pan American for the Eighth Annual Viva Engineering challenge Feb.16. The daylong event held in the University's Engineering Building focused on introducing junior high students and teachers to UTPA's engineering program and related careers.

More than 200 middle school students received hands-on training on what it takes to be an engineer during UTPA's eighth annual Viva Engineering event Feb. 16. Pictured from left to right are Luke Jones, a seventh-grade student at Sharyland North middle School; Enrique de la Cruz, an eighth-grade student at Bill Garza Middle School in Edinburg; and Gabriela Elizarraras, a seventh-grade student at Idea College Preparatory in Almo, building a cardboard car as part of the activities.

The challenge focused on generating excitement by Rio Grande Valley and Laredo area students about the many opportunities available to them if they go to college, graduate and pursue careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The event included a tour of the engineering building, engineering presentations and poster displays. The junior high students also heard from faculty members who urged them to graduate high school and college and pursue a career in engineering.

The highlight of the day was the competition sponsored by Time Warner Cable. Students designed carts using foam, hot glue, bubble wrap and wood sticks that could carry an egg inside. The carts were tested for durability by having them collide into a wall. After finishing their construction challenge, the teams also had to give a small product marketing presentation to the group of judges. The winners were selected based on their presentation scores and cart performances.

During Viva Engineering, Time Warner Cable representatives encouraged students and attendees to connect to the world of STEM through its Connect a Million Minds Program, the company's five-year, $100 million cash and in-kind philanthropic initiative to address America's declining proficiency in STEM.

Christopher Garza, president of UTPA's Engineering Student Advisory Council and Region 5 pre-college director of the Society of Hispanic and Professional Engineers (SHPE), said the competition was designed in a way that the youngsters could learn about engineering but make it entertaining at the same time.

"SHPE changes lives by empowering the Hispanic community, making it aware of the many opportunities available in STEM. SHPE knows that, unfortunately, there are still many wrong stereotypes about Hispanics in the STEM fields," Garza said. "We want to discover the hidden talents within Hispanics and to encourage these younger generations at pursuing a higher level of education."

Garza said the goal is to give students a different perspective about STEM careers.

"It is imperative for us to start educating our children through interactive hands on activities," Garza said. "SHPE focuses on having younger students look at college from a different point of view. We want them to see the fun side of engineering."

See more of the Viva Engineering challenge at the University's photo gallery.

For more information about the COECS, call (956) 665-3510 or visit the college's website.