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Published: Sunday, 5/9/2010

Students show innovations to special guests

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Imagine a machine that transforms used french-fry oil into fuel that can drive most diesel engines on the road today.

And what about an automatic temperature-regulating greenhouse that powers all its sensors with sunlight?

The latest innovations of corporate research and development? Not at all. These devices and others are the accomplishments of students at Toledo Technology Academy, a top-ranked magnet high school in the Toledo Public Schools system that specializes in "pre-engineering" instruction.

Saturday the students and teachers rolled out some of their most imaginative and eye-catching creations as they played host for an Automation Celebration open house.

The event, which drew mostly parents and prospective students, unfolded inside and outside the academy's machine-filled classrooms at the former DeVilbiss High School.

There were several award-winning entries in student engineering contests on display, including the solar-powered scale-model greenhouse (first place last month in one category at the National Robotics Challenge in Marion, Ohio), and the iraculous french-fry-oil-to-biodiesel converter, (runner-up in the same category).

A half-dozen student-built propane, solar, and biodiesel-fueled vehicles were also on hand.

Front and center was the academy's 117-pound, four-wheeled, and semi-autonomous robot named "Time Machine." The project took weeks to complete and was a quarter-finalist in March ata regional FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis.

"It was a lot of fun. I love the mechanics-type stuff," said sophomore Susan Veith of Toledo, one of 177 students, including 30 girls, who attend the academy.

Yet amid the excitement yesterday was a sense of nervous uncertainty.

School Director Gary Thompson said the academy faces cuts of $152,000 as a result of Toledo Public Schools' projected $30 million budget deficit. Some academy programs could be scaled back or eliminated because Toledo voters voted down an earned income tax levy last week.

Mr. Thompson doesn't know yet which programs will be pared or eliminated. But he said his staff is working with members of the academy's governing board and district administrators "so we don't violate the integrity of the program."

An earlier TPS proposal - apparently now off the table - would have closed the academy to save $1.3 million.

The academy's staff boasts of their engineering-focused curriculum that they say provides students with the knowledge and skills needed in the modern workplace.

Students are trained on industrial equipment that can cost upward of $20,000. They're required by senior year to work an unpaid internship at an area business.

Mr. Thompson said it was initially a challenge getting firms to take interns because they were more familiar with college engineering students. But teachers said opinions changed once the firms saw how prepared academy students were for meaningful engineering work - not just job shadowing or paperwork filing.

"Now we have more companies requesting our interns than we have students," Mr. Thompson said.

Student Jonathan Pym, 18, of West Toledo, said he has made contributions to various aspects of the design and production process during his internship this spring at Plastic Technologies Inc.

The firm designs pop bottles. Mr. Pym was amazed at how involved such work can be.

"I never thought how much engineering was put into a simple bottle and other everyday things that you never really think about," said the University of Toledo-bound senior.

Mr. Pym was also one of three students who devised, budgeted, and implemented a plan for an automated greenhouse that involves a retractable roof and several sets of solar panels.

A full-scale model of their project will be given to Sunshine Children's Home in Monclova Township at the suggestion of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), reportedly a fan of the academy's educational mission.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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