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Blog At the Museum

Our Engineers Day design process

I was very excited to plan Engineers Day this year. I was excited because as a popular reoccurring event, I knew that our community loves it. I was excited because I knew it would involve a ton of awesome, hands-on activities. And I was most excited to plan Engineers Day because I knew very little about engineering.

I studied biology, with emphasis on ecology and paleontology. To me, technology has always been a helpful tool that someone else will teach me how to use, rather than a part of a process I feel comfortable shaping. However, here at the Museum of Life and Science, we value “inquiry-based learning,” and understand that growth happens when you explore new ideas. Despite my trepidation at putting together an event with content out of my wheelhouse, I was excited to start my inquiries.

Participants take the lead building their own Lunar Lander with the help of Innovation L fellow Andrea.
Participants take the lead building their own Lunar Lander with the help of Innovation and Learning fellow Andrea.

Luckily, none of us exist in a vacuum. With the input of our tinkerers in the Innovation and Learning department, our Exhibits engineers, and the many community partners that contributed to planning this event (a big thanks to Kendra Settles, Dawn Trembath, the Duke Academy for Model Aeronautics, and NC State’s High Powered Rocketry Club), we put together a day packed with activities in the hopes that it would enrich our visitors’ experience and encourage hands-on engagement.

In the engineering design process, there’s a period of brainstorming followed by research and planning. However, real learning happens once we’re able to test our creations. This is where you come in. We can plan these events for months, brainstorm across departments, and bring in community experts to share their knowledge, but we won’t really know how the event will work until the day comes and the people arrive.

In Studio Earth, visitors painstakingly designed boats from natural materials to float along the Earth Moves stream.

I spend event days on my feet, checking in on activities and helping wherever I’m needed. This Saturday, I spent the day grinning as I watched both kids and adults take on engineering challenges and ask incredible questions of our engineers. Our wonderful facilitators, volunteers, and community partners explore in tandem with our guests, and I made note of a thousand different things that I’m excited to update and hone for future events.

Planning and running this event demystified engineering for me and made me feel more comfortable trying something new. I hope that attending the event had the same effect on our visitors, and that folks feel empowered to delve into this field on their own.

Now, I get to start the design process all over again and begin brainstorming for next year. Keep tinkering and testing in the meantime, and we can see how much we all grow!