James Madison University

Freshmen Compete for Engineering Glory

By: Sydney Palese
Posted: October 19, 2012

PHOTO: JMU studentsOn Sept. 22, freshman-engineering students gathered for the fifth-annual “The Fling” freshman design competition.

 “This is your chance for eternal glory in the engineering program,” said Bob Kolvoord, interim dean of the College of Integrated Science and Engineering, to the 49 participating freshmen during a preliminary briefing session.

Kolvoord explained that the competition is “a way to make sure students did engineering early on.”

This year also marked the first year that alumni from the department of engineering class of 2013 would be involved in the competition as judges and resources.

PHOTO: JMU StudentJack Cash, an alumnus who now works for Engineering Solutions, said his best advice to the participants of “The Fling” would be to “network and get your foot in the door.” He added that the competition is about getting to know everyone.  

Pre-assigned teams met during a meeting for incoming engineering majors during their 1787 orientation week. The freshman were then given the opportunity to meet prior to the competition, plan their design and fill out an order form for supplies they would need for the day of competition.

When team 103 met at Madison Grill two weeks prior to this year’s “Fling” competition, they knew very little about one another.

The six freshman-engineering majors, Collier Apgar, Vivian Diep, Brian Donovan, Lauren Donston, Kendall Effler and Joshua Kay, did not have a set design in mind, but knew they would have to work together to have an edge on the competition.

PHOTO: JMU StudentsThe objective of the competition is to design and build a device that can launch a stuffed Duke Dog through a pink, metallic hoop and land it on the target ( a miniature trampoline) using a trigger device. First, second and third place awards are given out based on performance, design and budget, in the form of a cash prize that are deposited onto each winning team member’s student JAC.

“Collier wanted to make a crossbow design, but the girls were not in agreement,” said Effler, who was more in favor of a catapult.

The team also relied on social media to keep them connected in the weeks leading up to the competition. Donovan set up a Facebook group that the team used to communicate and keep each other updated on any upcoming meetings or ideas.

PHOTO: JMU StudentsBecause the guidelines stressed being economical with materials, the team decided to discuss what they would need at their initial dinner meeting. They were given an order sheer to fill out prior to the day of competition.  As a result of this collaboration, they ended up saving a lot of money, which factors into the final score.

 “There is a focus on designing and building [a device] that is sustainable,” said Kolvoord. Students were allowed to bring in up to two empty 2-liter soda bottles, one empty copy-paper sized cardboard box and up to four empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls.

Material management is just one of the many challenges the freshman participants face during the competition.

 “The biggest challenge of the event will be working with others they don’t know,” said Dr. Jonathan Spindel, assistant department head. He also listed time management, using the available resources and playing different roles among the obstacles.

Though some of the team members had prior experience with design competitions, such as Destination Imagination, Effler insisted that “everyone had a say.” There were no pre-assigned roles, though Effler’s team members say that she did a lot of the managing.

The competition ran four hours overall, with about two hours allotted to brainstorming and design.

“As you walk around, you’ll notice that some teams are brainstorming first, but some are jumping right in … who’s to say what’s right?” said Spindel.

The team worked up until the last minute, constantly adjusting and changing their device, and brainstorming what could work best. Throughout the design and building process, the team worked together on decisions regarding their device.  Donovan and Kay speculated on how to use the bungee cords they ordered, and Donston focused on the bigger picture.

Of all the resources available to the team, duct tape was one of the most valuable. If anything went wrong or seemed out of place, Kay would swoop in with the silver roll and wrap any loose area.

“I’ve never had to rely on duct tape so much,” said Kay.

With two minutes left before the deadline, the team still needed to stabilize the device. Their objective was to ensure that the stuffed Duke dog would clear the bucket. Despite a rough start during their initial testing, they were able to execute a successful test launch after some last minute adjustments and, of course, more duct tape.

“There’s so much duct tape, you could make a shirt,” Donovan said observing the final product.

In the end, the team did not place in the top three, consistently landing the Duke dog in between the lines but never making it through the hoop. However, they did win one of the three best design awards. They were applauded on their use of a gallon bucket to keep the frame steady, and the handle of the bucket as a trigger.

The team was also awarded with “The Spirit of the Fling” award for maintaining all six original members and displaying the principles of “The Fling”, most notably, teamwork.

At their post-competition pizza party, the team which Kay affectionately called “The Dream Team,” said they ended up learning a great deal from the competition, including the importance of synergy, compromise, teamwork and, of course, duct tape.

View more photos from the event