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OK community rallies behind racing, engineering event

As we’ve discovered, one Oklahoma educational CO2 racing event has no trouble growing, thanks to community support.

The Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation (DAEDF) in Oklahoma hosts a CO2 dragster youth-engineering competition to encourage students to learn technical skills needed by area employers. Organizers say the community wholeheartedly supports the event, pointing out the sponsors and corporate volunteers for it.

Parents James and Stacy McGough help out with the races.

While many businesses and schools are involved, parents also get in on the act. James and Stacy McGough, whose ninth-grade son Sam participated in 2014 and 2015, were among the volunteers who stayed on their toes unloading cars from the track last year. They said the event was a great way to keep their son engaged in learning, adding that the contest encouraged him to learn SolidWorks, a CAD program.

“He already has a tinkering mind; he likes to figure out how things work,” James said. “This makes him think about what it takes to make this and to be able to do that. With the car, it forced him to think, ‘How do I explain to someone else how I designed that?’ rather than, ‘Oh that’s really cool.’”

Sam’s 2014 dragster won both the People’s Choice Award and the Engineering Award, even though it fell over and slid down the track during the race.

“This year he wanted to do a similar design,” Stacy said. “This time, he started looking at the center of gravity of his car from last year and started looking at how to get it lower and the wheels wider and those things.”

Stacy added that the contest is also a good motivator.

“He won the engineering section last year,” she said. “And this year he had a lot more people asking, ‘Hey, what’s your car look like this year?’ Last year they were all going, ‘I bet Sam’s car goes fast,’ which really helped him get more excited about it.”

As it turned out, Sam again won both the Engineering and People’s Choice Awards in 2015.

Since much of the cutting and building of a dragster can’t be done at school due to some of the schools having rules against saws and power tools, parents often have to help their child build the car. But they aren’t all on their own with this.

According to Duncan Gateway to Technology STEM teacher Tammy Bennett, her school is one of those with rules against tools typically used to build CO2 dragsters. She says students are often discouraged at first. Between parents and community members, however, they find a way for students to make their cars.

“We actually opened up the church one day and the kids signed up to come. Some of the engineers around here came together to help the kids cut them out,” said Bennett. “Our community – with the whole program – has really come into play. Otherwise we would not have the STEM program we have now. That is definitely a big piece of Duncan.

“We have a lot of engineers – that’s one of the big things in our community – through Halliburton and the other oil field areas. I think there’s been a big push for it because of the engineers in our area.”

Brad Boles, president of Wilco Machine & Fab Inc. in neighboring Marlow, OK, says as one of its sponsors, supporting the competition is good for his company. Plus, Wilco employees volunteer for the event, and the engineering team participates in the corporate sponsors’ race.

I think it’s very important to promote engineering and manufacturing to our local students,” Boles said. “They are the future of our workforce, and the more educated and talented they are, the more successfully we can compete in the future global marketplace.”

In 2015, five different schools were involved in the race, so teachers are on board. Bennett has encouraged students to participate for the last four years, especially since she teaches a Project Lead the Way unit focusing on dragsters. She believes the benefits are clear.

“First off, they get to use what they’ve learned about dimensioning,” said Bennett. “Secondly, it’s almost a total hands-on project, so it’s that project-based learning that the kids need to be doing to help them understand how things actually work. That’s the biggest benefit to me – and to the kids.

“I have fun watching it. It’s a blast to be there to watch these different creations and what kids can think through. There are several different ways to build this and get it to race faster. Just to watch the imagination of these kids, I think that’s a blast.”

She has seen the long-term value of participating in the event and the STEM program overall, specifically citing high school students who came back to thank her after they performed well in interviews.

“They’ve been able to come back and say, ‘This has made a difference when I talk to employers. I can tell them that these are some things that I’ve accomplished and that I understand. I know how to work and have a due date and things like that.’”

Boles became president of Wilco in 2008, the same year the engineering contest began, and said he’s also noticed the difference the event makes in the community.

“I’ve seen an improvement in the level of exposure our local students have to manufacturing and engineering, and most of that is due to the DAEDF vision and the success in partnering the local workforce with the local school districts so they can better work together to improve the technical skills of our future workforce, which is today’s students.”

By PJ Graham, web content specialist