MCA ‘Design Challenge’ shoots for the moon

By Sara Saak, Clarion Herald, Contributing writer

For the past month, the students at Mount Carmel Academy have been shooting for the stars in their third annual school-wide Design Cycle Challenge. 

Prior Design Cycle Challenges have included building a self-propelled Mardi Gras float and a “seasteading” community – a community capable of living and functioning on the water. 

This year’s challenge? Building a bottle rocket out of household materials.

Why rockets?

“Because of the increased interest in space exploration, especially with SpaceX testing at John C. Stennis Space Center, we felt that (the rocket) was both intriguing and relevant,” explained Geoffrey Philabaum, director of academic innovations. 

The students agreed as they could not wait to construct their spacecrafts.

Students watched videos on rocket aesthetics made by members of the art department and researched the science behind propulsion using research aggregated by the physics department.

Test flights

In their homerooms, students designed and tested their prototypes, improving and redesigning with each launch. Makers of the  highest-flying rocket from each grade level then had the chance to improve their design and pitch their product to a panel of judges in front of the entire student body. 

There, the judges – including a NASA engineer and two commercial airline pilots – evaluated each grade’s design and presentation skills.

Sophomores soar

In the end, the sophomore class of 2021 soared above the competition, combining an engaging presentation with a high-flying rocket.

Throughout the Design Cycle Challenge, students immersed themselves in aerospace engineering, all the while using vital collaboration techniques. 

Senior grade-level winner Abby Samaha said the experience challenged her to use the skills she learned in her math, science and art classes in “new and innovative ways.”

Hayley Sumich, a junior, also learned practical skills during the challenge. 

“Building the rocket taught me how to work with people to accomplish a task,” Sumich said. “No one was an expert before we started, but we all came together and made small contributions that resulted in a working product.”

Next year’s challenge could be anything from building robots to designing a computer program; but no matter the challenge, MCA students will find the knowledge, teamwork, and creativity to create something out of this world.

Sara Saak is a senior at Mount Carmel Academy in New Orleans.

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