For the past 15 years, through a NYSED STEP grant, Clarkson’s IMPETUS program (Integrated Math and Physics for Entry to Undergraduate STEM) has held a summer Roller Coaster Engineering camp for roughly 80 7 - 12th graders from St. Lawrence, Jefferson, and Franklin Counties. The camp usually includes collaborative hands-on activities such as designing scaled blueprints and models of roller coasters, implementing their coasters in a first-rider simulation experience, predicting the coefficient of friction using wall-mounted tracks, and a trip to Six Flags to collect data and meet with roller coaster technicians. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Clarkson’s STEP program hosted the camp virtually but still engaged students in a fun STEM enrichment experience.
Students and teachers from Brasher Falls, Ogdensburg, Heuvelton, Colton-Pierrepont, Harrisville, Malone, and Gouverneur were delivered a supplies kit consisting of tubes and marbles to build roller coasters, snacks, a camp t-shirt, and other items they would need for the week and then joined up in Zoom and Moodle for a wide range of activities. This year, campers took the role of a CEO to design an amusement park and a thrilling, safe roller coaster. They worked both individually and in a group with other campers. Professor of Psychology Jennifer Knack and CU graduate Marharyta Pliazhuk guided the students through brainstorming activities to develop vision boards to conceptualize their park and helped them practice pitching their ideas. Mathematics Professors Galluzzo and Kavanagh along with CU graduate students Joe Judge and Freddie Amoah-Darko and undergraduate Gabrielle Anastasio helped students implement their visions using the ROBLOX gaming environment. Students collected data on their rides and features of their park to analyze how to optimize profits and customer satisfaction. They shared their data and collaborated in teams to improve their park designs. Profs. Ramsdell, Thomas, and Kapper with the help of CU undergrads Owen Casciotti and Ariella Sanders helped connect the creativity and business models to the physics and mathematics behind roller coaster engineering through hands-on experiments that campers did offline. Students ensured their ROBLOX coasters were exciting but still provided a safe amount of G-forces.
Since students undoubtedly missed the trip to Six Flags Great Escape, CU undergraduate Kristen Goebel designed a virtual Great Escape Room activity in which students had to unlock puzzles to virtually move through the amusement park and experience various rides.
In addition, CU undergraduates Carlie Fowler, Mariama Jawo, and Maurice Peploski mentored students and served as judges for the final presentations. Campers enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with each other and their teachers and also make new friends while building problem solving and communication skills and gaining a deeper understanding of roller coasters kinematics. Everyone had a great escape!