A Smashing Good Time
By Debra Redburn
Communications--College of EHHD
A small crowd of students gathered on the sidewalk outside Reid Hall on a cloudy winter day looking up to the windows on the fourth floor of the building. Suddenly, a window opened and a one cubic foot square wooden box came hurtling out the window and crashed onto the sidewalk below. The crowd groaned as the box smashed into pieces, spilling the foam contents all over the sidewalk. A student quickly rushed up to the debris to see if the object cushioned inside had broken. It had.
Four more boxes flew from the window, some partially breaking apart, but most shattering completely. The boxes were a culminating project from a technology education class called “Materials and Processes” taught by assistant adjunct professor Lidia Haughey.
“Students were first given the requirements to build a one cubic foot box, and then they had to design and apply a corn based home-made composite to the box," Haughey said.
Different objects were placed inside and packed with foam peanuts made from plastics to see if the materials would protect what was inside the box when dropped from the fourth floor of Reid Hall.
The “Materials and Processes” class exposes students to a wide variety of materials, such as woods, metals, composites and plastics, and then focuses on the many different processes used to transform these materials into useable consumer products. Students in the class come from several degree areas: technology education, agricultural education, architecture, and University Studies.
Five groups of students built a cubic foot box of different types of wood, demonstrating their ability to safely use a variety of lab tools and equipment. Then to their surprise, Haughey switched boxes so they did not have their own box. Several students were not happy, as they felt their own box was superior to one they received.
“In life, you have to deal with what you get sometimes,” Haughey said. “With the switch, students had to work with what they were given.”
The next step was to create a home-made composite to cover the outside of the box and help cushion the contents from the fall. However, students could only use materials from corn-based products.
“We went to the grocery store and spent time looking for corn-based products,” said Jackie Stathatos, a sophomore from California in agricultural education. “We had to find something we thought would work to protect the object inside the box.”
Students experimented with many types of product combinations, trying to create something that would stick to the wood and also create a cushion. Students tried cornstarch, chocolate syrup, corn husks, marshmallows, Corn Chex, Corn Pops cereal, and popcorn to engineer just the perfect outside cushion. After taking into consideration such issues as drying time, adhesive properties, chemical, and thermal reactions, students began coating the box, hoping for a successful outcome.
After the outside dried, each box was packed with an object-a mirror, concrete plaques, or plastic jug of water-and encased in a plastic product (foam peanuts).
Then, it was time to test the boxes. Marty Hecock, a graduate assistant in technology education, opened the window and began heaving boxes to the ground, one at a time, to the cheering crowd.
“The most visually appealing composite, from a functional standpoint, was made from Kix cereal, corn syrup, corn starch and corn flour. It held up the best with only one side coming off,” said Haughey. “All the boxes still broke.”
Technology education students apply marshmallows to the outside of their box as a cushioning material.
A tech ed student checks to see if the mirror in his box has broken from the fall.
Haughey says that in the end, the overall purpose of this particular project for this group of students was to give them "the opportunity to get involved with and realize the importance of research, design, trial and error, and analyzing all of this to make well informed decisions related to materials and processes."
The “Materials and Process” class is just one of the hands-on classes that technology education offers at MSU. Technology education teaches technical procedures used by industry and technological processes. Students have a choice of two options within the degree: the non-teaching industrial technology option and the technology education broadfield teaching option. Those not wanting to teach in schools opt for the industrial option, which allows them to go into a technology-oriented business or industry.
Scott Davis, associate professor in technology education, says those in the industrial technology option can take an 18 hour block of courses in their area of interest, such as engineering, business, or computer science. The industrial technology option also requires students to do internships in business or industry. Typically, after they do their internship, they are usually hired within their field.
“The benefit of the non-teaching option is its ability for students to take courses they’re interested in and which meet their career needs,” Davis said. “When they have a passion in a certain area, they can choose the right courses to strengthen their academic program.”
Nationally and statewide there is a shortage of technology education teachers. In the teaching option, Davis says MSU has a 100% placement rate, as long as students do not restrict themselves geographically. For those not teaching, MSU students are successfully hired in many areas: web design, machining, computer drafting, electronics, and multi-media production. Companies like Zoot Enterprises and Right Now Technologies in Bozeman, and Autopilot and Montana Gold, both machining businesses in Belgrade, Mont., have hired technology education students. Several students work for the city of Bozeman as web designers, and two former students work for the city in the Information Technology Department.
Brent Powell, a fall 2010 technology education graduate, found the degree fostered both his creative and technical growth. When Powell first enrolled at MSU, he was in computer science. From a friend, he heard about the technology education degree and thought it might be a good fit.
“It was the first time I felt like I had input in my classes and was able to communicate on the same level as my professors,” said Powell.
With his degree, Powell hopes to continue his education and specialize in online distance education, as well as integrate media and web technology in both education and daily life.
Students earning a technology education degree from MSU leave with a broad content knowledge base. Whether they gain this knowledge from building electronic robots, creating promotional videos, designing school facilities, building alternative fuel vehicles, or by heaving boxes out a window to test their own materials and processes research, they are miles ahead of the competition when it comes to future employment opportunities.
The Technology Education senior capstone course, "Manufacturing Technology," requires students to research, design, finance, manufacture, and market a particular product. Monies earned from the sale of these products help support the Technology Education Club. The Technology Education Club helps support students in the curriculum and also provides scholarships through fundraising.
Above, Nathan Curdy and John Clark promote the sale of their products, as well as the technology education program. Curdy(left), a senior from Hamilton, Mont., in the industrial option, plans to go into information technology management when he graduates. Clark (right), a junior from Great Falls, Mont., is working towards his technology education degree with the goal of teaching in the schools.