Kids Put YSU Students’ Exhibits to the Test

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – While the exhibits varied from group to group, 175 Youngstown State University students had one goal in common: Wow kids.

For the third year in a row, freshman engineering students at the university put together prototypes for Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology. On Thursday, 50 designs the YSU students assembled were given their first test run as 300 kindergarteners and fourth-graders from Warren City Schools came to the center.

Some students were more interested in the long-standing favorites that have been installed at Oh Wow – such as the TV station weather set and hurricane wind simulator – while others worked their way through the museum front to back, stopping at each exhibit, YSU students included.

The prototypes ranged from a solar-powered slot-car track to a wood seesaw with barbell weights on each end. The children were challenged to make it balance.

“No two groups did the same thing. It was completely up to them to come up with their own idea for the project,” said Kerry Meyers, director of the first-year engineering program at YSU.

As part of the curriculum, freshman engineering students must create an exhibit that “can teach children about science, technology, engineering or math,” she added. “They come up with an exhibit that could inspire kids to think about those areas.”

The semester-long assignment is more than just fun for kids in grade school, Meyers noted. It also gave the YSU freshmen experience in working on projects in the real world.

“It’s not just coming up with an idea. It starts with that, but then you have to go through a process of developing solutions to problems, getting design feedback and redesigning based on that,” she said. “This is a whole life cycle of a design they’re doing with this project.”

Suzanne Barbati, executive director of Oh Wow, said that both groups of students benefit and the contest also propels the science museum forward.

“It helps us meet our clients’ expectations that we will regularly have new exhibits and experiences. We can take advantage of these great young minds to build those exhibits,” she said. “And it builds a great relationship with YSU’s STEM College.”

And with 300 young inquiring minds testing each and every prototype, she added, the freshman should learn something from the five- and 10-year-olds testing their products.

“We’re very concerned about durability and safety with all of our exhibits, along with the ability to clean and maintain them and the costs associated with those issues,” Barbati explained. “These younger students will help the YSU students understand that just through interaction. They’ll learn what they need to do to make their designs more accessible, more durable, more secure for kids.”

Sure enough, only minutes into the event, groups started to notice problems with their designs. The four-man group who put together the light-powered slot cars realized their table was too high and so had to resort to either holding the students up so they could hold the light over the car — or simply show the students how it worked.

Another group, who built the air compressor rockets, realized that the lever to shoot the foam dart into the air was sometimes too big to for kindergarteners to grasp securely.

For some YSU students, whether their design was 100% complete was less important than dealing with the pupils. Brandon Haldiman, a chemical engineering student, said getting a fully functional exhibit ready for display wasn’t his biggest concern.

“It was an afterthought. The big thing was getting the experience and having fun with it,” he said. “It’s just nice to have fun with the kids for this. I want to see smiles on the kids’ faces, see them have fun.”

After the event, which rotated the groups of YSU students about once an hour, the groups will have 2½ weeks to improve their designs based on the comments the Warren children made. On April 23 and 28, the revised prototypes will be on display in Moser Hall at YSU. On the 30th, a committee from Oh Wow will judge the top design from each group, the winner to become an exhibit at the center.

Two projects caught Barbati’s eye just a minute into the event.

“There’s one using underwater speakers that we’re really excited for because it’s something that could be incorporated into our rhythm machine,” she said. “And there’s another one connected to our water table that will let visitors move sand and water in new ways.”

Pictured: Brothers Zachary and Andrew Meyers test one of the YSU student’s exhibits.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.