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Rose-Hulman's Operation Catapult treats High School Students to a Taste of College Life
June 28, 2011
A miniature hovercraft glides down the hallway, tracking to one
side and bumping into pedestrians despite the best efforts of its
operator. "It likes to go to the right," one of the team
members comments as the others laugh.
Welcome to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Operation
Catapult, a summer program which enables high school students to
participate in hands-on engineering projects as they experience a
slice of campus life.
||132 students ask each other personal questions to supply
answers for the grid boxes of their "bingo" cards as Catapult kicks
off with a round of Get-Acquainted Bingo.
"That is actually really good and y'all are getting really high
hover," Catapult Director Patsy Brackin encourages. The professor
of mechanical engineering says that students must work in teams to
complete their projects, while remaining within a limited
The program, now in its 45th year, is open to
students who have completed their junior year of high school.
Over the course of their three week session, students will stretch
their brains by attending lectures and working in groups to build
projects ranging from hovercraft to human-powered
refrigerators. Guided by Rose-Hulman faculty and technicians,
the participants are encouraged to take on challenging projects
that are of interest to them, but which they don't have a great
deal of current knowledge.
This year, the program's first session is bursting at the seams
with eager students. "Normally in first session we have about 115,"
Brackin explains, but this year she says, there are 132
Operation Catapult provides a unique opportunity for
participants. Along with Rose-Hulman's world-class faculty,
students have access to facilities and equipment not available to
most. "The thing that is the absolute best about Catapult is that
they have full use of our facilities," Brackin explains. That
aspect affords students the ability to tackle projects that they
could never do in a regular school setting.
Rose-Hulman technicians help the catapulters translate their
ideas into real, working mechanisms. "This is the first time for
many students that they have been able to work with technical
people to build stuff," Brackin says.
Mechanical engineering technician Ray Bland helps students
acquire the materials they need to complete their
assignments. In the Operation Catapult supply room, teams
have access to tools and other items they need to build their
projects. "Students can come here, check out consumables like tape
and adhesives, and also tools," Bland says.
Just down the hall from the hovercraft teams, another group
develops a Rube Goldberg project to steep a tea bag for a specific
amount of time, using a required amount of steps. "Our goal
is to remove a tea bag after almost 2 minutes of steeping," team
member Kerry McQuaid explains. Employing a series of
toppling dominoes, falling checkers, rolling marbles, and even a
cup of vinegar and some baking soda, the group must remain within a
$50 budget while completing the assigned task.
"We've got at least 15 steps at the moment," McQuaid says.
But the team is far from done. "The requirement is to have 20
steps," adds Brackin.
Operation Catapult not only provides attendees with hands-on
engineering experience, it also gives them a taste of college
life. Rose-Hulman student-counselors oversee the social
component of the program, planning activities both on and off
"It's our job to be with the kids from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.,"
explains counselor Elaine Schaudt. Cookouts, paintball, field
trips and other fun activities add a social component to the
hands-on academic program. Living in the residence halls
during their stay completes the catapulters' well-rounded campus
The first session of Operation Catapult continues through July
1, when it culminates with a presentation of student
projects. Session two will begin on July 11th and
run through July 29th.