Exploring the World of Engineering

In Chapin’s Upper School Principles of Engineering course, Class 12 students, led by Dr. Prasad Akavoor, are discovering the basics of and building experience in this dynamic field, from simple machines to computer programming.

“Most classes we just get straight to work,” one student shared. “It’s a lot of experimentation and trial and error.” With just one or two lectures per unit, the elective class is extremely hands-on—the seniors happily spend most of their class time working through self-directed Project Lead The Way (PLTW) exercises in small groups.

A recent exercise introduced these engineers-in-training to the world of computer programming. They began by building test beds (platforms used to conduct testing of technology) featuring electronic equipment like motion sensors, bump switches, potentiometers, and light sensors—the same technology found in today’s driver-assistance systems that help motorists avoid collisions and maintain control of their vehicles.

Once their test beds were built, the students began using code to manipulate them. Challenges they faced included getting a motor to move at certain speeds in both directions, and making a light bulb turn on when a button is pushed.

Focus and enthusiasm abounded as each group worked through these challenges at their own pace. “It’s really important to pay attention to your brackets,” one student explained as she pored over lines and lines of code on her laptop.

The groups talked through each problem until they found a solution that worked, all the while recording their findings in their PLTW engineering workbooks. Students took turns fulfilling various tasks including typing code, taking notes, and reading directions.

At the end of this computer programming unit, after they are well versed in coding for various functions, the groups will be tasked with building machines that can sort marbles based on color… a project they are anticipating with nervous excitement. Of course, Dr. Akavoor will be there every step of the way to lend support and guidance when needed.

In January, as a supplement to their in-class work, the engineering students (along with students in Advanced Physics) enjoyed a field trip to the Cooper Union, the college of architecture, art, and engineering located in New York’s East Village. Dr. Akavoor has brought his classes here over the past three years for a deeper exploration of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and a first-hand look at real world engineers-in-action. 

During their two-hour visit to the Cooper Union, the group toured the unique facility, learned about the school’s program, and met with faculty and students from various backgrounds. “It was encouraging for us to meet many women working in this field,” Dr. Akavoor shared.

Following their tour, the Chapin students worked with Cooper Union students to complete interactive activities, like constructing miniature structures that could support heavy weight and mixing chemicals to create sticky goo. They even got a sneak peek of an impressive racecar that a team of engineers are building and discussed the importance of safety, speed and fuel efficiency when creating a vehicular design. “The students were impressed to see real-world applications of what they are learning in class,” Dr. Akavoor noted.

With the strong foundation this Principles of Engineering course has provided, and a first-hand glimpse at the boundless possibilities of STEM, these graduating seniors are that much closer to becoming confident leaders in this male-dominated field (or any field they choose to pursue).

Browse photos of the class (and the Cooper Union visit) below: