It All Started with the First President | E-Week, a Celebration of Engineering

It All Started with the First President | E-Week, a Celebration of Engineering

Erin Steever | Feb 22, 2017

George the Surveyor

George Washington was not only the Nation’s first President, he was also a surveyor and an advocate for American civil engineers. Prior to serving as our United States President, he was the President of the Potomac Company; a company created in 1785 to make improvements to the Potomac River and improve its navigability for commerce. One such project was the Potomac Canal. George was unsuccessful at gaining board approval to hire civil engineers to design the Potomac Canal, and in 1823 the failed canal project brought to the forefront the importance of utilizing engineers and changed the view of engineering in America1. The National Society of Professional Engineers began celebrating engineering (E-Week) in 1951 during George Washington’s actual birthday, February 22nd. 

Math, Science, Technology……Oh My!

During E-Week, the South Dakota Engineering Society (SDES) celebrates engineering and inspiring future engineers. SDES strives to reach a range of audiences through events promoting the importance of math, science and technology. During MATHCOUNTS competitions, math problems are presented to eager eighth grade students in a Math ‘bowl’ format. During E-Week each year, competitions are held in Rapid City, Sioux Falls, and rotate between Aberdeen and Brookings. The top three teams then advance to the State competition. MATHCOUNTS helps students build confidence and nurtures a love of math. 

Super Second Saturday

A second SDES outreach focuses on 5 to 12 year olds and their families. SDES partners with the Kirby Science Discovery Center in Sioux Falls with hands-on engineering themed activities. Erin Steever, one of Banner Associate’s water resource engineers, volunteers as the Eastern Chapter E-Week Coordinator. This year she developed two activities focused on water systems for the Center’s “Super Second Saturday” event held in February. 

What is one of the most prominent structures in the landscape of many communities in South Dakota? If you guessed the water tower, you’re right! But have you ever wondered why? While these towers do a fantastic job at displaying the town or city’s name in giant letters, they more importantly provide water pressure to the residents of the community. What better subject to engage and excite young minds to consider environmental engineering than water towers! Environmental engineers have many engineering aspects to consider when designing a water tower and distribution system, such as hydraulics and water pressure.

Engineering in Action!

The first water system activity included a simplified tower and distribution system. Using a mounted bucket filled with water as the miniature tower, and attached tubing as the distribution system, the kids experimented with water balloons attached to the opposite end of the distribution pipe (tubing). By raising and lowering the balloons and comparing them to the water level in the miniature water tower, they could see exactly how water pressure is created. When the balloons were held close to the floor, water filled the balloons up, which is exactly how drinking water is delivered to their faucets at home. 

When they held their balloons above their head the water would drain out of the balloon and they’d eventually have an empty balloon. They learned that if their faucet in their home was at an elevation higher than the water tower, they couldn’t be served by the water tower and a pump would be needed to get water to their faucet. And that friends, are why water towers are usually so much taller than the houses and other buildings in your town! 

How Tall Can You Go?

The second water system activity was a competition to build the tallest water tower! Using aspects of structural engineering, stacks of newspaper and masking tape were the construction materials to be utilized. Using inspiration from the three-different elevated water tower structure types available on the market today (spheroid, multi- column, and composite), there was quite a range of unique tower designs! The only catch was their finished tower had to hold a balloon filled with air and 12 oz of water! If a structure failed, the kids (and sometimes their assisting parent) identified the failing or weakest part of their design and came up with alternatives to keep their water balloon from falling to the ground. It was great to see the kids eagerly working on their designs and problem solving.

Every day engineering touches all our lives in many ways. Join us as we celebrate engineering during National E-Week (February 19-25, 2017). George would be impressed by how far civil engineering has come!

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