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Future may be built on gumdrops

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Katie Elsass, 13, of Lima makes a dome from gumdrops and toothpicks during the build-a-thon in Bowling Green.


BOWLING GREEN - Marja Brolinson diligently stabbed colorful gumdrops with toothpicks yesterday, slowly building a structure resembling a tower.

It wasn't as tall as the Sears Tower in Chicago nor as sturdy as the Eiffel Tower, but the small, sticky structure taught a lesson just as magnificent. Marja, 10, was learning through hands-on experiences that science and math is fun. And that, said organizers of the Building Big outreach program, was the point.

Backhoes, model dams, and giant domes made of paper and tape were found at the Bowling Green State University Fieldhouse during the day-long build-a-thon. More than 250 people attended the program that highlighted the necessity of engineering in everyday life.

“There is a problem of declining scores in science and math nationally and yet people don't realize that everything in our lives had an engineer involved in it somehow,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, assistant director of Broadcast Services WBGU, the local PBS station that organized the event.

“Hopefully this will turn kids on to these subjects by making a connection between math and science and their lives. And maybe we'll even get an engineer out of it,” he said.

The event was held in conjunction with a five-part PBS television series that highlighted the construction of bridges, domes, dams, skyscrapers, and tunnels. The series aired in October. The build-a-thon featured hands-on activities for students in grades 5-8. On hand were members of the local chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and local companies.

Matt Lemon, 11, said he was at the build-a-thon because his mother made it a mandatory family event. But after controlling the long, mechanical arm of a large backhoe, the Bowling Green sixth grader admitted he was having fun. Sandy Elsass drove more than an hour from Lima with four members of her Girl Scout troop for the event. Leader of Troop 81, Ms. Elsass said the four seventh-graders were getting a chance to solve such engineering problems as how to construct a paper bridge that can hold 100 pennies.


Kevin Seyfried, 12, of Whiteford Agricultural School in Ottawa Lake, Mich., and his father, Larry, build a tower using only two newspapers. Mr. Seyfried is a teacher at Whitmer High School.


“Career-wise, this is a good way to see what engineering is all about,” she said.

Marja's mother, Mary Ann Brolinson, said she was excited to see her two daughters involved in engineering and mathematical problem-solving. “Who knows where this will lead, but at least it sparks their interest now,” she said.

Marja said it was her idea to attend the event after reading about it in her school newsletter. “I wanted to come because I thought it would be neat and to learn how bridges were built,” said Marja, a fifth grader at St. Joan of Arc School in Toledo. “It's been fun.”

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