Inside USD

Engineering Students Can Walk on Water

Friday, April 17, 2009

To some it might look like a group of young people are horsing around in a swimming pool, but to Matthew McGarry, a mechanical engineering professor at USD, the anticipated commotion this Saturday is truly an educational — and fun — activity. wowphoto

The 18th annual Walk on Water competition, which takes place from 10 a.m. to noon at USD’s Sports Center pool, is purposely designed to break a stereotype associated with engineering.

“From a high school student’s perspective, engineering is dry; that it’s only for those into science and math,” McGarry says. “This is a chance for us to expose them to the creative and fun side of engineering. For the college students, this is a nice break from the traditional lectures, labs and tests. And it gets them outside.”

The Walk on Water event provides high school and college students with the task of designing, constructing and piloting “water shoes” across one length of the pool. They have to consider three design considerations: buoyancy, stability and propulsion. The entire process allows students to gain experience at applying the engineering design process and ultimately, to solve open-ended engineering problems.

This year, USD’s “Be Blue, Go Green” sustainability initiative has an impact on the competition. Students are encouraged to use recycled materials, including wood and Styrofoam, to create their “shoes.” There is a $100 budget limit on each team’s entry. Prizes are awarded to teams with the fastest times.

McGarry says the fastest time he’s seen recorded is 10 seconds, but it’s not the norm. What is normal?

“A lot of people getting wet,” he said. “Teams fall over and into the water a lot. It’s also noisy and loud, too. It’s not a golf match. There will be a lot of water flying around.”

McGarry, coordinator of the Walk on Water competition, says 35 teams, comprised of three or four students, will vie in high school and college divisions. Community college and local university teams, including 40 USD engineering students, will participate.

“This gives us an opportunity to have a different kind of interaction with the students,” he said.

Saturday’s event, which is free for spectators, also spotlights USD’s engineering program beyond the campus community. The department offers electrical, mechanical and industrial and systems engineering disciplines as well as a unique program in which students can earn dual BA/BS degrees in nine semesters. Engineering is ranked 21st in the country by U.S. News and World Report among programs whose highest degree is a bachelor’s or master’s.

— Ryan T. Blystone

For more information about USD’s Department of Engineering, click here.

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