Teamwork is Essential to Engineering

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SHINE Students working on their inventions.

Spaghetti, Coffee Stirs, Coffee Lids, Pipe Cleaners, and Coffee Sleeves. Why would we give these to 33 high school students who don't know each other? These students are in Week 1 of seven weeks of the Summer High School Intensive in Next-Generation Engineering (SHINE) program, an experiential educational opportunity that enables talented high school student to learn about engineering research by joining a USC Viterbi faculty member's research team to learn by doing engineering by helping in a hands-on, real-world setting. The SHINE students were told to build a pot (no other direction as to what kind of pot) in just thirty minutes from only the ingredients listed above. They were told to demonstrate inclusive and productive teamwork and to build a pot that was both creative and functional. No other instructions than that. What better way to learn and/or use the principals of engineering than through such a challenge? 

Think for a minute: what might these students have learned under such conditions? 

The SHINE students were challenged to form groups with complete strangers. The students were in shock; how were they going to create a pot with these materials and with people they've never met? The only way for SHINE students to complete this project was to put their shyness aside and work as a team.   

Problem solving never stopped – who would go get the raw materials and who would stay to figure out what Dr. Mills meant by build a POT? A flower pot? A cooking pot? A few students Googled the definition of a pot, which did not help them decide what to build. Would it need to be water tight? Given the ticking clock and that problematic set of building materials, how could anyone make the pot water tight? They learned that time and materials are major constraints in engineering.  

Structural integrity is hard to build with uncooked spaghetti and flimsy paper coffee cup holders. Some groups used braces to reinforce the circular opening of the cup holders. Others tried using cup tops as a base or broken spaghetti as a support. Pipe cleaners might hold all the parts together. 

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Each group invented different pots and presented them.

Thirty minutes passed, and it was time for each group to present its invention to the group. Each group described the pot with ease, their shyness gone given the impossibility of the task. Each group outlined its design process, laughing as spaghetti fell from the pot or when something else went wrong. Each pot was different, reflecting the relationships each group formed in those thirty minutes.  

Teamwork – it's essential in engineering, and in learning anything through experience. 

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