Throughout its history, the EMA/ME Design Competition has featured such entries as an assistive golf chair, a rotating bowling ball rack, a novel trash compactor, a pedal-powered riding lawnmower, an inflatable temporary shelter, an all-in-one commuter bicycle accessory, and many more unique and creative ideas that reflect the interests of their creators.
Each December, students in Adjunct Professor Fred Elder’s engineering mechanics and mechanical engineering senior design courses (EMA 469 and ME 349) participate in the competition, which enables them to polish their presentation skills and showcase a semester’s worth of very hard work. “Professor Noah Hershkowitz and I knew students would be at their best in a competitive situation, with opportunity for significant financial gain,” says Elder.
With the resounding enthusiasm of their students, Elder and Hershkowitz established the competition late in the fall 2008 semester. As a result, they had to move quickly to secure funding for prizes. Alumni supported that first contest almost single-handedly—and on very short notice, says Elder.
Although most support is financial, says Elder, the competition also receives in-kind gifts—for example, a local tent and awning company’s help sewing the inflatable temporary shelter.
The number of contest sponsors has expanded and now includes alumni, friends and industry partners. Six to eight teams participate each year, and teams receive $500 to help them prototype their projects. “They could not build prototypes without this funding,” says Elder. “This gives them real-world shop experience—invaluable today, as many graduates do not have it.”
Competition winners, runners-up and honorable mention teams share $4,000 in total prizes. Elder, who requires his students to choose their own projects, says that approach enables his students to take ownership of their ideas, and to be responsible for their success. “What the contest and its many sponsors allow is for the students to take that extra step in becoming a competent engineer and to learn that the time involved is unimportant in real engineering,” he says. “Rather, accuracy and completeness are what counts.”