US Energy Department Sponsors Aircraft Design Contest

It’s not a rare thing to get high school students to participate in competitions that may have some implications on global markets but the most recent design contest has to be a first: Students in Kansas have been invited by the US Department of Energy to develop fuel-efficient designs for aircraft.

The massive design contest was kicked off at Seaman High School in Topeka, where Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Education Commissioner Alexa Posny gave a selection of about 50 students the brief. Since then students in Oklahoma and Vermont have also agreed to participate. Sebelius is enthusiastic about the projects, seeing it as a way to encourage youths to get involved with finding ways to improve the environment. She also felt that it would be a way to promote education in math, technology, engineering and science. By getting more students to focus on those subjects, they will ultimately be increasing their chance at having more competitive careers.

Governor Sebelius isn’t the only one who feels that the competition is a positive concept. Engineers from Cessna Aircraft, authorities from Hewlett-Packard and various state education agencies also think it is a good idea. They are all actively encouraging youths to sign up for the challenge. Doing so will not only result in some interesting and creative concepts, but will give the high school students access to amazing computer software that will reduce operating costs and increase aircraft performance. According Dr Ralph Coppola, who is employed by the company that designed the software to be used in the competition, there is a massive demand for a work force compliant with this sort of technology. Coppola said: “We need the work force. We absolutely need the work force. Without the students in the work force, we’re not going to be able to compete in a global economy and we need them for Kansas and we need them for the nation.” Coppola appears to view involvement in this project as a long-term investment in the country.

The students involved in the US Department of Energy’s “Real World Design Challenge” will be competing with fellow students and teachers from across the state. In each case, the students and teachers will work in teams and they may end up competing on both a local and national level. The winner will be announced early next year and will go on to represent the state of Kansas in the final competition, which will take place in April 2009. The ultimate scenario is a win-win for all parties involved: students get an education and the chance of a lifetime, schools get great technology, teachers get motivated students, the industry gets a generation of better educated youths entering the work force and the industry gets a whole bunch of creative and innovative new concepts. It will be interesting to see what the final results of this massive competition are.