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The City Journals

Hands-on learning from industry experts leaves East Midvale students excited about STEM

May 29, 2022 01:46PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

At East Midvale Elementary, students weren’t just getting a lesson about composites that tied into fifth-grade core curriculum, they were getting a chance to have hands-on learning from industry experts.

In one classroom, Boeing Metal Manufacturing Engineer Scott Chapple explained to students that composites have a high strength-to-weight ratio, can be bent to any shape needed and are designed for environmental exposure. Chapple also walked them through different kinds of composites.

“Our planes are designed to stay in the air; the composites are designed so they don’t crack at the altitude or change of weather or other conditions,” he said about their planes made of carbon fiber.

To better understand composites, he showed students how he created one by putting in chenille stems and a plastic astronaut into water, then freezing it. He provided students safety glasses and a hammer to take a crack at it.

“Two or more things can come together as a composite and you can see how strong they can be,” Chapple said.

It went along with the lesson, “What is a Composite?” where students created a composite timeline, described the matrix and reinforcement of composites and identified some advantages of using composites in products.

It was all part of the school’s engineering week, where about 100 second-graders discovered how airplanes fly, looking at the wing design and the pressure put upon them, then made paper airplanes looking critically at how the wings affected their flight before flying them in the school hallways.

Fifth-grader Connor Wilkes was excited to gain an insider’s knowledge of airplanes.

“It was really cool,” he said. “He told us how much fuel the planes use and how much composite is part of the plane. It’s like 50% and it’s stronger than aluminum. Did you know that the laminate glass windows don’t break or even shatter?”

Boeing Metals/Composition Manufacturing Engineer Paul Filatov said it’s part of their outreach to teach STEM to students.

“The kids are excited; it’s cool stuff,” he said. “Everyday technology is evolving and we’re trying to help make sure kids are ahead of the curve.”

Filatov said students were challenged to create their own airplane after using one that had guidelines.

“There was a lot of happy kids jumping for joy making airplanes and not just learning how to make them fly better, but why changing little things can help them do so. They were having fun experimenting with what works; I told them they were learning why we need engineers in the world,” he said.

Filatov also taught students about aerospace careers.

“We tell them, ‘if you love math and science you’re learning here, there’s this amazing aerospace field you can go into’ and we’re hoping to spark a dreamy kid into thinking and going into this career. I tell them, ‘I’m 23 and one of the youngest engineers at Boeing. Fifteen years ago, I was in elementary like you guys so if you love airplanes and space and this stuff, come join us.’ There are careers if they like to draw, they can design planes; if they like to work with tools, we need mechanics. There’s a lot of positions with a range of opportunities,” he said.

Boeing, which also had an engineering manager and industrial engineer demonstrating to the fifth-graders, has offered the outreach program for at least five years out of Salt Lake City and West Jordan. The area operations build horizontal stabilizers made of composites for the 787s, and consoles and overwing exit doors for the 737s as well as work on military aircraft, Filatov said.

Fifth-grader Avery Umberger said that she learned that carbon fiber not only is pliable, but also strong.

“It makes a lot of sense why composites are used in the plane’s wings,” she said. “Planes’ windows are small and made out of stretched acrylic so they can handle the pressure and it’s a lot lighter than glass. I learned a lot about planes; I didn’t know what they were made of. I like math and science, so it’s a cool job.”

Her teacher, Danna Caldwell, said this was another opportunity for her students to learn about careers beyond their parents’ occupations or what they see at school—or what they will experience at the Junior Achievement mock city, which they plan to go to this spring.

“A lot of students aren’t aware of job opportunities, and this teaches them what they can apply with what they’re learning in school—their math, their science, their writing,” she said. “We’re studying composites this spring, so it directly ties into what they’ll be learning, but it really opens their eyes as to what is out there. I’m sure half of them have never been on a plane, so this just excites them.”