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Engineering future success

[Rube Goldberg Machine Contest]
Monika Palinkas, Engineering Outreach Projects Coordinator, left and Scott Compeau, Outreach Coordinator for EngQonnect, hold up a Rube Goldberg machine that Ms. Palinkas built as an example for students who will compete in the upcoming Rube Goldberg Machince Design Contest at Queen's University. (University Communications)

While most engineering design is aimed at making things simpler, a special event on Thursday is asking local elementary students to make a basic task more complex.

It’s called a Rube Goldberg machine, named after the cartoonist and engineer best known for his cartoons depicting intricate gadgets that perform simple tasks in convoluted ways.

The aim of the annual Rube Goldberg design contest, organized by EngQonnect, an outreach program for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Queen’s, is to get local youth interested in design and possibly an education and career in engineering.

This first pilot event has students designing and building Rube Goldberg machines that complete the task of turning on a musical device.

The focus of the contest is to introduce young minds to the engineering design process, explains Scott Compeau, Outreach Coordinator.

“That’s what we’re trying to reiterate with this contest. Engineering requires a lot more creativity and innovation, building a prototype, testing it and going through a design process,” he says. “It’s using a lot more of the problem-solving skills that are necessary to become an engineer.”

Some students may be deterred from engineering as they believe it only requires strong abilities in math and science, but it’s more than that, Mr. Compeau says.  Providing an accurate representation of the engineering profession is the goal of the outreach program along with connecting with the community.

“I think that there are a lot of components to engineering that are not necessarily known – creativity, innovation, problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills,” he says. “All of these are essential engineering skills that sometimes get overlooked, but, within the profession, are extremely important.”

Ahead of the event, Mr. Compeau and Monika Palinkas, Engineering Outreach Projects Coordinator and an engineering student herself, have been visiting local schools to spread the word about the contest and get students thinking about a future in engineering.

They want them to know that while engineering is definitely challenging, it can also be a lot of fun.

“The Rube Goldberg contest is a great introduction to the engineering design process because it’s practically impossible to make a machine that’s going to work the first time,” says Ms. Palinkas. “I made one myself and it took me a few days to complete. It’s all about building one step and asking yourself why it’s not working? You figure out the problem and you solve it. There are all these mini-engineering challenges within the whole design process which is why it works so well for exposing engineering to kids.”

Grade 8 students from Calvin Park Public School have been building their machines throughout the week and will be displaying their machines for judging on Thursday, June 11 from 12:30- 1:30 pm in Room 313 within Beamish-Munro Hall.  The Rube Goldberg machines will be open to the public during the final celebration between  6-7:30 pm where all attendees are welcome to actively participate in the event by voting for the “people’s choice” award

Further information can be found on the EngQonnect educational outreach program website or contact the team at eng.qonnect@queesu.ca.