39th annual Delaware Technology Student Association State Conference at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington. Jason Minto/The News Journal. Ethan Anders watched anxiously as his balsa wood glider circled up, almost brushing the tall ceiling of the Delaware State Fair building, and then back down, almost vertically, toward the ground. "My goal is 13 seconds in the air," he said minutes before, using glue to attach a small, rectangular piece of wood to the model plane's tail. He retrieved his plane from the ground after his test launch, then hurried back to his worktable to make some last-minute adjustments.
Students play human foosball at the 39th annual Delaware Technology Student Association State Conference at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington. (Photo: Jason Minto/The News Journal)
Anders, a sixth-grader from P.S. du Pont Middle School, was one of the younger students at the 29th annual Delaware Technology Student Association (DETSA) State Conference Wednesday. The event lasts two days — Wednesday and Thursday — and involves more than 1,200 students, advisors and judges representing 37 high schools and middle schools from across the state in more than 65 contests.
Medalists will represent Delaware at the National TSA Conference in Orlando, Florida, in June. Areas of competition include architecture, CAD, digital video production, dragster design, engineering design, flight, magnetic levitation vehicles, robotics, rocketry, structural engineering, system control technology, video game design and more. Each TSA event requires students to apply engineering and technology to solve problems and invent solutions.
Blently Marerro, 16, a tenth-grade student at McKean High School launches his aircraft to compete in the flight endurance competition at the 39th annual Delaware Technology Student Association State Conference at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington. (Photo: Jason Minto/The News Journal)
"We've been around since 1978," said Mike Fitzgerald, the event's organizer. He is an engineering and technology education specialist for Delaware's Education Department.
STEM education — education around science, technology, engineering and mathematics — isn't new, he said. DETSA has been working for almost four decades now to get students interested in engineering and technology.
"We have chapters throughout the state," he said. "In pretty much every school."
And the annual competition is open to students of all kinds.
Dylan Huang, a ninth-grade student at MOT Charter, runs tests before the maglev vehicle competition at the 39th annual Delaware Technology Student Association State Conference at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington. (Photo: Jason Minto/The News Journal)
"Oftentimes people think this kind of stuff is just boys, but you can tell by looking at our population, there's just as many girls and boys," Fitzgerald said.
For instance, one group of girls, from Postlethwait Middle School, worked busily on Wednesday to not only build a lift bridge out of Legos but to program it to go up and down at the push of a button. The bridge also needed to make a sound when it rose to alert hypothetical tourists they wouldn't be able to cross.
"It gives us an idea about how things in the real world work," Priya Gupta said.
Her partners, Ananya Narayanan and Victoria Adams, nodded in agreement.
While they worked on solving that problem, across the hall, small model cars were propelled down an 80-foot racetrack to test how aerodynamic they were.
One crossed the length in only 1.286 second, which "is actually kind of slow," Fitzgerald said. Some of the students' cars can go 80 feet in less than a second total.
A vehicle begins to move down the track during the dragster competition at the 39th annual Delaware Technology Student Association State Conference at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington. (Photo: Jason Minto/The News Journal)
One building over, a table of model rockets waited for a 1 p.m. launch and small vehicles, propelled by fans and floating above the table thanks to magnetic levitation, tried to stay aloft long enough to traverse a short track.
Vincent Alois and Zackary McKinney, 11th-graders from Caesar Rodney High School, were hard at work building a model bridge crane.
"You want as many cross braces or horizontals as you can," Alois said, his head bent toward the table.
"Then, you measure its load, if something's being pulled down on it, you measure how heavy that object can be."
Their test model only held 30 kilograms, the boys said.
"Now, we're shooting for 50."
Gauger-Cobbs Middle School eighth-grade students, Kathy Rodriguez, left, and Keila Lopez-Camacho work on building their structure in the structural engineering competition at the 39th annual Delaware Technology Student Association State Conference at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington. (Photo: Jason Minto/The News Journal)
The whole goal of the competition is to get them excited about STEM, Gauger-Cobbs Middle School teacher Jeff Epting said.
He was helping judge projects Wednesday and also serves as an adviser for his school's DETSA team.
It also inspires them to study STEM after graduation, Epting said, as he knows from firsthand experience.
He's had at least one student go on to become an engineer — and sees potential in several more.
"It does put a spark in the students," Epting said. "It really does."
"And it's very rewarding for all of the kids."
Contact Jessica Bies at (302) 324-2881 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jessicajbies.