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'Can-do' students fight hunger and inspire local kids

Team "Hercules" in action

After a long day at school, about a dozen eighth-grade students from Broughal Middle School gather near their auditorium while their friends and classmates hit the streets. Instead, they listen intently to the results of their semester-long partnership with Lehigh students – CANstruction, a community-service project designed by Lehigh students to fight hunger in our neighborhood while spreading a passion for science and engineering.

The Broughal students toiled with members of the Lehigh Engineering student-leadership organization Rossin Junior Fellows to create free-standing structures comprised entirely of cans of food. The structures were built on March 26 and will remain on display in the middle school until April 9. Over 3,000 cans were used to create the structures, all of which will be donated to Bethlehem's New Bethany Ministries food bank.

According to Broughal teacher Lori Cirucci, "This year is even better than last year, especially in the design phase because the kids had a better idea what to expect."

Michael Hodsdon, '10, president of the Rossin Junior Fellows, said that exposing the students to engineering is one of the goals of the project.

"It's good to expose them to it; who knows if they'll actually pursue it, but that's the end goal," Hodsdon said. "With a little luck hopefully some of them will turn to science and math and maybe engineering."

The three designs that the middle school students help to choose and build were a replication of the Philadelphia LOVE statue, a rocketship named "Hercules," and a globe and bowling pins titled "Bowling Down Hunger."

On March 29, Peter Thierry of Benchmark Civil Engineering Services, Inc., George Horas of Alfred Benesch & Company, and Chad Kusko of Lehigh University's Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems (ATLSS) Center came to judge the designs for prizes in four different categories. The Best Use of Labels award went to the LOVE structure because of its "consistent background, creative use of color and symmetrical aspects in the use of labels." The award for Best Meal went to Hercules because it presented the "most complete meal, most nutritious and best balance of food." The award for Structural Integrity also went to Hercules because the "overall scale and proportions required great effort and supporting the mass on a small foundation was a feat." The final award for jurors' favorite or Best in Show, went to Bowling Down Hunger for its "unique idea, good integration of color and design and different shapes."

According to Cirucci, the students selected to participate are chosen to help them realize their potential and are eager to participate.

"I try to pick kids who will really benefit the most from this type of activity," says Cirucci. "They are smart kids who aren't quite sure which direction they want to go."

The eighth graders worked with Lehigh students on Thursdays after school this semester to plan their design, work on the structure model using Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, and plan the project down to the last detail.

One might think that it would be difficult to convince middle school students to stay after school, but Cirucci found it to be quite the opposite.

"They definitely were excited about the project and saw a side of engineering that doesn't require sitting behind a computer screen," Hodsdon said.

Many of the students excelled at the computer part of modeling the structures as well.

"Some of the kids get into the CAD drawings, some use Google SketchUp, and you'd be amazed at what they come up with," reports Cirucci. "Even the Lehigh students can't believe it."

"Every time we do this type of outreach program it goes off really well," says Hodsdon. "The kids love it, and you can just feel the energy around the whole project. The Lehigh students are excited to be doing something outside the classroom, and the Broughal kids are excited to learn about something new and do something fun."

"The kids did a great job," Cirucci said. "It's nice to see them take pride in their work."

The structures will be taken down on Friday, April 9, from 11 a.m to 1 p.m. by both the Lehigh and Broughal students.

"It ties off the project, shows that there is an end to it and we're donating the cans and not just throwing them in a truck," Hodsdon says.


 Allyson Planders is a Lehigh journalism student working as a writing intern for the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Story by Allyson Planders

Posted on Monday, April 05, 2010

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