Students show off their engineering prowess at LCC fair

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From designing a coffee maker to an automatic parking machine, city high school students showed a summer of work they had done making their engineering dreams come true at a science fair held at LaGuardia Community College last week.

“I’m so pleased to see so many kids, so many parents, so many guests,” said Abdel Belkharraz, director of the college’s LaGuardia Youth Center for Engineering Excellence program.

Created through Title V funding, which is meant to support local education reform efforts, the LYCEE program brings high school students to LaGuardia, at 31-10 Thomson Ave. in Long Island City, to work on engineering and science projects, Belkharraz said. The program runs for two regular semesters and one summer semester each year.

“The vision of the center is to try to increase the number of students pursuing STEM education,” Belkharraz said. STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

So far, 300 students have participated in the program, 165 have graduated and 65 took part in the latest summer semester. Working within guidelines set by teachers and mentors in the program, the students designed objects big and small over a period of weeks.

“It’s great,” Alex Li, a 15-year-old student at Stuyvesant HS in Manhattan, said of finishing his project. “Feels like a great destination to a long journey.”

Alex and 18-year-old Steven Osma, of Aviation HS in Sunnyside, created an electric model of a three-story parking garage which parks cars automatically through the use of a sensor.

While they had to work within models — some students had to design objects with a software program called Catia while others had to design a Moroccan-style Riad house — the students were able to pick their projects themselves.

Obinna Nanna, 17, of Queens Gateway to Health and Sciences Secondary School in Jamaica, created with her group a garbage truck with a robotic arm that picks up trash cans. Nanna said that while developing the truck was disorganized at first, the mentors in the program helped them achieve their goals.

“They gave us immense support and a great amount of ideas,” Nanna said.

Not every group made a large object, however. Iffat Islam, 15, and Kripa Gurung, 16, students at the Academy of Finance and Enterprise in Long Island City, used Catia to design a model of an old-fashioned coffee maker. They then produced the model by “printing it out” on a machine that can create plastic shapes, and then assembled those shapes into a coffee maker.

“We learned it takes a lot of work just to make something simple,” Iffat said.

Peter Katopes, vice president of academic affairs at LaGuardia, said this program gives students the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of science-fiction writers like Jules Verne and painters like Leonardo da Vinci, who designed inventions that once seemed like impossibilities but eventually became reality.

“A part of education is about dreaming of possibility, and certainly engineering is an area to make your dreams come true,” Katopes said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 11:10 am, October 12, 2011
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