The Tickle College of Engineering welcomed a return to a sense of normalcy on October 19 with the 109th annual Engineers Day, one year after being forced to go virtual because of the pandemic.
“We were very happy to be able to host in-person events once again, and to showcase what is possible through engineering and at the Tickle College of Engineering at UT,” said Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Ozlem Kilic, whose office helps put together the event. “We had a good turnout from schools across the state, and we also had strong support from our students, faculty, and staff, who helped put on the various events.”
Ongoing restrictions for field trips vary from one school system to the next. While this limited capacity to around half of pre-COVID levels, nearly 1,000 students—representing 41 high schools from across the region—made it to campus for a day of learning, competition, and a celebration of all things engineering.
UT alumnus Harold Conner kicked off the day’s activities with a keynote address at Thompson-Boling Arena. Conner earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UT in chemical engineering in 1968 and 1978, respectively, before gaining his doctorate from the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 2013.
In his four-and-a-half decades working largely in the nuclear industry, Conner has held leadership roles at the former K-25 site, Y-12, Lockheed Martin, and with the US Department of Energy, before taking on a role with UCOR, which oversees cleanup at the K-25 site. Currently, he works for Strata-G Staffing, which seeks to build connections between UCOR and UT.
Following his remarks, student competitions began in earnest, with a mix of competitions from previous years blended in with new offerings.
This year, those activities included:
- Balsa wood bridge, which tests the structural limits of student-designed bridges;
- The egg drop, which challenges students to build devices to protect an egg dropped several stories;
- Capture the flag, which features a computerized version of the challenge;
- Rocky top stand, which had teams design structures to meet certain criteria;
- Radiation shielding, in which students try to design simple protective shields for objects;
- Cup stacking with a twist, which involved students building towers of cups;
- The marshmallow design challenge, which gave students several objects—including marshmallows—that they used in designing objects.
The return of in-person activities was a clear drawing point for students, as explained by Adrian Smith, a teacher from Volunteer High School in Church Hill, a community much closer to the northeast Tennessee Tri Cities area than Knoxville.
“It’s such a fun day for our students,” Smith said. “We always enjoy coming to Engineers Day. It’s awesome.”
Smith helped mentor a bridge design by Volunteer High student Macie Skelton, a junior honor roll student in the class of 2023 whose bridge was the first to be tested on the day, eventually holding an impressive 46.27 pounds before shearing.
Dating back more than a century, Engineers Day has become a prominent annual event on the college’s calendar, when classes are cancelled for the day so that its students, faculty, and staff can help pre-college students experience all that engineering has to offer. It owes its origins to a day in 1912, when college students were given the day off to work on what became Estabrook Drive.