Groups of sixth-graders at Linthicum Elementary School pushed and pulled toothpicks and marshmallows yesterday, trying to build a bridge that would support a box of pennies and resist the urge to eat the marshmallows at the same time.
They were among students throughout the county getting a glimpse of life as an engineer as part of Discover E program, started in 1990 by the National Society of Professional Engineers to encourage students to pursue careers in engineering.
Engineers from Westinghouse have visited six schools in Anne Arundel County this year, showing students videos, conducting hands-on experiments and explaining their jobs. They will visit two more schools this week and another next month.
Westinghouse engineers Veronica Goodwyn, Lisa Wu and Tad Trias spent yesterday with three groups of sixth-graders at Linthicum.
"Engineers touch every part of our life in more ways than you could probably think of," Mr. Trias told a group of students after they saw a video about engineers who design bicycles.
"You don't have to be a genius. You don't have to be the smartest guy in your class. You just have to have desire and persistence," he said.
Marie Flynn, a teacher at the school, said the program gave the students another career possibility to think about.
"It's wonderful for them to see what's out there so they have some things to consider for what they want to do with their life," she said.
The engineers gave each group of students 50 marshmallows and 75 toothpicks and challenged them to build a bridge between two stacks of books six inches apart.
Marie Lumsden, Alysha Wiles and Timothy Rauser were struggling to strengthen a weak spot on their bridge by adding more toothpicks and marshmallows when Marie weakened.
"Mmmmmm," she sighed as she swallowed a marshmallow. "They're good. I ate the squishy one I messed up."
When they finished, Mr. Trias placed a cardboard box on their bridge and began dropping in pennies, one by one, to test the strength of the design. The bridge withstood the weight of 29 pennies before the bottom sank to the table.
"Yes, yes," cried an exuberant Marie after another team came close, but not close enough to surpassing the weight her team's bridge had supported.
But late in the day, five students in the last group that had tried to build a bridge came out on top with a structure that supported 35 pennies. And they wasted no time in eating their design.
Team member Paul Carlson, 12, said, "We are the champions" and pumped his fist into the air while finishing off a marshmallow.