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News Release

A taste of engineering for incoming freshmen

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Students in the IDEA Summer PrEP program gathered in front of Jacobs Hall for some get-to-know you activities. 

San Diego, Calif., Aug. 6 -- Over 50 future Tritons filed into a darkened classroom of the Structural and Materials Engineering building wearing gray T-shirts which read “Engineer in Training” in teal lettering across the front.

On day three of the Jacobs School’s Summer Pre-Engineering Program (PrEP), admitted freshmen became structural engineers for a couple of hours when they were asked to build a stable structure out of K’Nex. This was just one of several events for Summer PrEP participants to build relationships and gain skills to navigate their next four years of education.

“I’m learning more and more about engineering, it’s great,” said Mariam Issa who plans to major in environmental engineering.  “Not only how to plan for classes in college, but also a better idea of engineering because I think a lot of us don’t have a solid idea of what engineering is. This camp is helping us out by hearing from those in the field, and professors and everything,”

The four-day Summer PrEP program is organized by the IDEA Student Center at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. In all, 51 students took part this year. They met with faculty members who gave them advice about academics and with students and alums who gave them advice on student life and life after graduation. Students also took part in many fun activities. In fall, they will become IDEA Scholars, who received mentoring from Jacobs School students, alumni and faculty and are involved in undergraduate research, among other things.

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Students built structures made out K'Nex and tested them on mini shake tables. 
Photo: Gennie Miranda/IDEA Student Center

During the K’Nex exercise, teaching professor Lelli Van Den Einde gave an overview of structural engineering research at UC San Diego and got the group started on their task. Using a bag of K’Nex pieces, teams had to build a twenty-inch tall structure that could withstand three earthquake simulations on one of the departments small shake tables. The first test recreated the Kobe earthquake of 1995, the second “super quake” was a compilation of some of the most intense segments of earthquakes in history and the third was a sine wave.

The same activity is taught in the Seismic Outreach program for sixth-graders all over the county, Van Den Einde said, a comment which sends a wave of laughter over the crowd. But Van Den Einde assured them that they too would find it a challenge.

Sitting on the floor, huddled in small circles, the building teams set to work.

They were given an inventory with the cost of each plastic piece and a goal of keeping the cost over area ratio as low as possible. Simply put, a successful structure would have high square footage and stability with low cost.

Though the activity called for structural engineering efforts, the PrEP participants have a range of engineering and computer science interests, like Garry Turner, a future environmental engineering major.

“My major is environmental engineering and I went into it because of all the energy crises that the world is currently faced with. But I love building things,” Turner said. His structure made it through the first two quakes, but sustained damage during the sine wave.

After the tests, half of the structures had survived all three earthquakes. The winner, which was stable during the quakes and the lowest cost over area ratio, had a short, rigid base and a flexible top.

After much applause and collecting fallen K’Nex pieces, the engineers-in-training headed off to lunch.

To learn more about the IDEA Student Center and its programs, please visit http://idea.ucsd.edu

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Three Summer PrEP students pose for a picture on a way to a talk by mechanical engineering professor Olivia Graeve.


Transfer PrEP students tour Cymer, a local company and leader in developing light sources used by chipmakers to pattern semiconductor chips.


Transfer PrEP students tour Cymer, a local company and leader in developing light sources used by chipmakers to pattern semiconductor chips.
Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering