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Engineering Expo Celebrates the World of STEM

USF College of Engineering undergraduates organize and run the yearly event

Since its inaugural event in 1973, the University of South Florida Engineering Expo has become an annual two-day celebration of all-things STEM that connects kids with technology.


Each year about 10,000 Tampa Bay area K-12 students descend upon the College of Engineering to experience what happens when classroom lessons and scientific principles are brought to life with demonstrations of sparking Tesla Coils, robots, 3-D printers, exploding ping pong balls and fiery feats. Safety equipment and observers were on hand to ensure a mishap-free event Feb. 16 and 17.


Engineering Expo is organized and run by undergraduate students who take care of everything from creating an Expo app to ensuring parking spaces for school buses. Engineering Expo President Sydney Luzier has worked a variety of the event's jobs in previous years and says there's a lot to see and do with 60 exhibitors, including 45 USF student organizations, eager to share their knowledge and interests to achieve a common goal.

"I love to see all these kids get excited about STEM."

Smiles, countdowns and cheers were abundant throughout the event's grounds and lecture halls, including those of students from HOPE Ranch Learning Academy campus in Hudson. HOPE lead middle school teacher Tim Lewis says Engineering Expo provides opportunities not available at most schools.

"I don't have the funding to bring in a Tesla Coil. It shows them the hands-on environment and that this is something they can attain."

Engineering students are used to solving problems, and one of them at Expo is generating enthusiasm in young audiences. In the case of the USF chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) the challenge was what to do with a pile of corn starch, according to AIChE volunteer Samantha Chanthalima, a sophomore studying chemical engineering.


"How can we make this not boring?" The answer is PIFF, a fire-breathing dragon cut-out, that illustrates with a brief, billow-of-a-fireball what happens when you combine air, a blow torch and fuel such as powder food products.

There were plenty of ways to play with fire, but also to learn about the variety of professional fields engineering encompasses with events like the balsa bridge competition and campus organizations letting kids who maybe never considered studying technology and pursuing a STEM career about the diverse opportunities available to them.


College of Engineering graduates were well-represented among off-campus exhibitors, such as Sarah Studt, who graduated with a BSME in 2014 and staffed a table sponsored by The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) that wowed youthful bystanders with thermogenic (heat-sensitive) slime that changes color along with its temperature.

"It's important to try to engage with them and get them excited," says Studt.

There was also the opportunity for Expo visitors to learn the latest about America's space exploration plans straight from a team representing NASA. Wayne Saxer of the Kennedy Space Center outreach office was joined by others from NASA who showed off hardware like a parachute used for recovery of the Orion capsule and Space Launch System (SLS) that will take human explorers beyond the moon.

"It makes it tangible for people who don't get out to the Space Coast how we affect their lives," says Saxer.

Each Engineering Expo has a theme and this year's focus of "Sustainability and Engineering the Future," was selected to "show you can improve and change the world through engineering," says Luzier, who will graduate in May with a bachelor of science in Civil Engineering.

Story by Brad Stager, USF College of Engineering. Photos by Ryan Wakefield, USF College of Engineering.

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