Kridli and Cristiano lead workshop at North American International Auto Show

February 6, 2013

Team at work

Marshmallows and raw spaghetti aren’t what you’d expect to find at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS).

But that’s what was on hand for a group of 60 budding engineers during the NAIAS’ 8th Annual Education Day.

The props were part of the Engineering Discovery workshop led by University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Ghassan Kridli and John Cristiano. Area high school students were challenged to construct a freestanding structure with the noodles, tape and string that would support the weight of a marshmallow on top.

“Engineers are problem solvers who use every resource possible to bring into existence things and ideas they imagine,” said Kridli, professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering.

The marshmallow exercise challenged students to think like engineers. Designing a plan, building a prototype, testing the structure—students’ innovation and creativity were on display as they crafted and tweaked their projects.

As teams completed the challenge, Cristiano and Kridli talked about the different approaches taken by teams and why some approaches worked better than others.

Even the less-successful efforts were important to the process.

“We discussed how failure to construct a freestanding structure is valuable in terms of learning how not to construct the structure, “Kridli said.

UM-Dearborn partnered with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) for this event in an effort to increase exposure to the STEM fields. UM-Dearborn graduate students Ni “Echo” Chen, Parvathy Viswamohan and Waleed Al-Mahshi assisted Cristiano and Kridli.

In addition to the hands-on challenge, students learned what engineers do and what careers are available in the field.

“The sessions went very well,” said Cristiano, director of the Patton Center for Engineering Education and Practice. “It was a fun day that helped expose high school students to the excitement of engineering and at the same time strengthen our relationship with TARDEC.”