The value of hands-on learning can’t be overestimated. And when that learning also benefits the college community…well, that ups the value significantly. The proof of this was seen in Maryland at Howard Community College’s Children’s Learning Center (CLC) recently when new playground equipment was unveiled.
The CLC received an $11,000 grant from the PNC Foundation in the fall, in part to help fund a playground upgrade. Soon after, Mark Edelen, chair of engineering and technology, contacted CLC Director Kim Pins to talk about a possible collaboration.
“I reached out to the CLC to ask if we could do a project for them, as I knew they had some playground equipment ideas,” Edelen said. “I wanted a project that was something students could actually build and deliver for use at the CLC.”
Pins wanted to expand the existing interactive musical playground equipment, so a group of Edelen’s Intro to Engineering students were tasked with the job. The students worked closely with Pins to design a durable, natural and safe structure with a diversity of instruments that multiple children could play with at a time.
The students also talked with the children to find out what they wanted.
After the engineering students came up with a design, they spent a solid two weeks working intensely to build it. Finally, Brooks Wiggs, Laura Wortman and Faith Tracey got to see their project in use. On a warm summer day, excited preschoolers were given the greenlight to play.
“It’s an incredible feeling, seeing them play on something I helped design and build,” Wiggs said. “I’m so glad I got to see this.”
For Edelen, this is the perfect example of “client-focused engineering projects” in which HCC students design, build, and deliver real products to real clients.
“We believe these projects provide a rich learning experience in which students are learning engineering in an authentic real-world context,” he said. “There are some lessons about the design process and project management that simply cannot be learned any other way.”