Durham Tech takes first place in engineering competition for second consecutive semester

L to R – Muffy Vestal, Michael Gatlin, Claire Cronin, Joseph Turner, Ian Leonard, Joshua Viau

The Durham Technical Community College team placed first in the Rube Goldberg Engineering 150 Competition on Saturday.

More than 80 teams, including five from Durham Tech, competed for the top spot and a $700 cash prize. The competition was hosted by Wake Technical Community College.

Similar to the popular game of Mouse Trap, a Rube Goldberg machine is a complex contraption in which a series of devices perform simple tasks linked together to produce a domino effect. The competition required students to create machines that operate within a timeframe of 30 seconds and two minutes, with an end goal of popping a balloon.

“This was a great opportunity for us,” said Joseph Turner, member of Durham Tech Team Double Stack. “It was cool to get involved in the process of design and see what works and what doesn’t work. It was also an opportunity to practice soft skills like delegating tasks and making deadlines.”

The team created an alien-themed project from scratch that used rolling balls, gears, pulleys, and a rolling toy car to lift cutouts of the five team members into a spaceship.

Two Durham Tech teams tied for first place at the competition last semester.

“We knew Durham Tech did really well last time, so there was some definite pressure,” said Claire Cronin, another Durham Tech team member. “We tried our best not to think about it because we didn’t want to stress ourselves out.”

The team was under the supervision of Muffy Vestal, the new Engineering Coordinator at Durham Tech, who teaches her students how to think outside the box.

“If they don’t come away knowing everything, I want them to know how to find what they are looking for, and I want them to be able to solve problems on their own,” Vestal said. “I think this competition is a great opportunity for students because it really cements the engineering design process.”

Vestal said she was especially impressed with how well the team worked together to develop their project.

“I saw them struggle incorporating their ideas, but they overcame it,” Vestal said. “They stumbled but got up and encouraged each other. Not just on their own team, but team to team. We’re really building a culture of engineering students.”

Durham Tech will compete to defend their title at the next competition in April 2019.