By Jarod Davis
Designing vehicles to travel on the rocky, unpredictable surface of Mars is a difficult
task, even for the minds at NASA.
That’s why the agency created the annual Human Exploration Rover Challenge, which
invites college and high school students to design and create a vehicle that will
traverse the simulated surface of another planet. But before teams can think about
boldly going to strange new worlds, they must first turn their thoughts closer to
Each group is required to create a STEM Outreach Activity in their community prior
to the competition. For the design engineering technology majors who make up Trine
University’s team, this has provided the opportunity to interact with 240 students
from Hendry Park and Ryan Park elementary schools in Angola.
The team — made up of seniors Carma Cherry of Angola, Indiana; Emily Atwell of Fishers,
Indiana; Tyler Blanton of Gaston, Indiana; Ian Price of Fortville, Indiana; Alex Munger
of Pioneer, Ohio, and Sandeeb Kurian of Elkhart, Indiana — visited Hendry Park on
Nov. 5 and Ryan Park on Nov. 7. Team members guided children in three activities at
three different stations, helping the youngsters accomplish each of the station’s
At the hoop gliders station, students were given straws and construction paper in
order to create hoop gliders, to find out which glider design traveled the farthest.
The pretzel towers station gave students pretzel sticks and marshmallows, with the
goal of building the tallest structure.
Lastly, at the marshmallow raft station, students used materials like plastic lids
and straws to create a raft. The goal was to keep the raft afloat and keep marshmallows
on the raft from sinking. Each activity incorporated elements of STEM that both children
and teachers enjoyed.
The Trine team received positive feedback from both elementary schools, and an invitation
from each principal to return.
“Most of the kids and teachers told us they hoped we could come and do other activities
with them again,” Cherry said. “One teacher even commented that each of the challenges
had to do with something the students in her STEAM class were learning (movement,
The team was proud of the work they put in for each of the activities.
“To the team, the STEM activity was not something we wanted to rush to complete just
for requirement's sake,” she said. “We wanted to do something fun and interactive
for all of the kids and teachers to enjoy and be involved in. I believe we succeeded.”
Various people on campus were helpful in the team’s success and motivation. Keith
Didion from the Trine Bookstore on campus provided T-shirts for the team to wear.
Thomas Trusty, associate dean of the Allen School of Engineering and Computing and
associate professor & chair of Design Engineering Technology, said he was impressed
by the level of commitment and enthusiasm the Trine team displayed.
“This outreach activity signifies their understanding of the value in enlightening
the youth in our local community about STEM, and exciting them about the possibilities
in pursuing an engineering career at an early age,” he said.
The team will compete in the NASA Rover Human Exploration Challenge at the U.S Space
and & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, from April 17-18, 2020.