Strong foundations

North Douglas camp offers engineering challenges

Seismic energy produced a variety of reactions on a summer Monday afternoon at North Douglas High School, ranging from groans and face-palms to whoops and high fives.

Disappointment or joy hinged on one factor: How sturdy is your pasta/candy tower?

One by one, teams of middle schoolers carried their creations to an earthquake simulation device brought to class by student instructors from Oregon State University. Every team handed over custom-made structures to get vibrated with increasing tempo. Those with stability and balance survived. Those with insufficient support toppled.

Whatever the outcome, kids got second and third chances to absorb what they learned and to try, try again. Alex Gray of Drain, 11, gave credit to her partner, 12-year-old Tristan Cloudt of Roseburg, for coming up with the idea to form triangles of spaghetti on their project’s sides and base. They also had a strategy for selecting candy to join the pasta strands.

“Marshmallows are flimsy, so I need these (gumdrops) for extra support,” Alex said.

One table over, partners Riley Stevenson and Anderson Harris, both 12-year-old Roseburg residents, pondered how to meet the OSU students’ height requirements for the lesson without risking structure collapse.


“We need less mass on top and less weight on top, so we’re modeling it on the Eiffel Tower,” Anderson said.

The lesson was part of Discover the Engineer in You, one of a series of career and technical education summer camps taking place for a second consecutive year at schools and other sites across Douglas County.

The series of Expanding Horizons camps are free to all and available through a grant secured by the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub. The Hub works in partnership not only with OSU, but also with area CTE programs, Umpqua Training & Employment, Umpqua Community College, Douglas Education Service District, Oregon State University and the Area Health Education Center of Southwest Oregon.

Depending on where students report for camp, they may spend the day welding, building birdhouses, installing a bike rack, fashioning stepping-stones from fresh concrete or dissecting cow eyes.

North Douglas School District Superintendent John Lahley said the district was pleased to host an Expanding Horizons camp, in part because the curriculum aligns with school district goals.

“The camps fit in well with our commitment to offering our kids programs that spark critical thinking, and also expose students to ideas and skills that can play a role in their future careers,” Lahley said.

The engineering camp at North Douglas was taught by the same student staff conducting a similar camp in July at Coffenberry Middle School in Myrtle Creek. At both sites, the four OSU students arrived with plenty of materials that would provide kids with numerous hands-on activities over the five days of camp.



OSU biology major Shelby Versteeg said she and her co-instructors scheduled lessons on water purification, building speakers, designing catapults, racing solar cars and an exercise modeled on the television show “Shark Tank.” In that session, kids try to “sell” their designs to potential “investors” (the OSU quartet).

In addition, time was set aside for the North Douglas kids to visit Orenco Systems in Sutherlin, and to tour Umpqua Community College.

Versteeg said some of the kids signed up for the camp are genuinely interested in engineering. Others, less enthusiastic, might have been directed by parents who wanted them out of the house and doing something productive in summer.

“Some kids come here confident to take on the challenges, and others are not quite so sure,” she said. “We do baby steps and float around to the teams giving advice – ‘Have you tried this, or this?’ And we take breaks with word games or playing tag.”

In Monday afternoon’s earthquake strategies lesson, kids had to do more than design temblor-resistant structures. They had to consult a purchase order form to “buy” materials and meet building requirements, while documenting what worked and what didn’t. They also had to keep to a budget of $20 million for all structures they produced.

After creating one successful design, Drain residents Breanna Smith, 14, and 15-year-old Zia McKeithen decided to economize for the next. “The linguine was very expensive, so we’re making this one out of spaghetti,” Breanna said.

Riley and Anderson, whose Eiffel Tower stood firm under shaking, were ready to try a different style of building. Anderson was quick to admonish a visitor getting close to Design No. 2.

“Please don’t shake it. We’re not doing stress work yet,” he said.


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