By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Alabama Power Company gave groups of female students at Gadsden’s three middle schools an opportunity to try a mechanical engineering exercise last week as part of the company’s ongoing “iCan” program.
Jacki-Lyn Thacker, of Alabama Powers Communication and Public Relations office, said iCan is targeted for eighth grade girls with high potential in math and science, with the goal of getting them interested in engineering.
How do the Alabama Power representatives get girls interested in engineering? By giving them a task to accomplish and the guidance of young women – engineers – who work at Alabama Power.
Jennifer Robinson of Alabama Power’s Anniston office works in distribution and engineering.
She introduced students to their project, showing them a short film about Rube Goldberg devices – machines that employ a number of related steps to accomplish a task, usually with entertaining results. Their instructions were to assemble a Rube Goldberg device to dispense dog food (marbles in this case, to avoid any messiness) into a container.
Their device had to have five steps, and they were given a box of materials to use: cardboard tubes of various sizes, boxes, duct tape, a slinky, straws, balloons, a toy airplane, a pulley, a battery-powered toy car, clothes pins, skewers, playing cards, and other items.
The girls had less than two hours to put together their devices and demonstrate how well they worked. They were to judge each others work before selection of the best contraption. The teams could get extra points if their creation made noise, if it had a “flying” part or raised a flag.
As they worked, the girls exercised some important skills: problems-solving, team work, time management and creativity, as they came up with a way to get their dog food into its container.
This exercise is only one of Alabama Power’s iCan activities in the Gadsden schools.
Earlier, they did a “Fancy Feet” activity, giving the girls an odd variety of everyday items to use to make shoes that they could walk on.
The iCan program will bring other activities to the Gadsden middle schools, and Thacker said they hope to expand the program to other school systems as well.