Learning by doing: 4-H slogan leads Rhinelander teen to adventures in aerospace technology
By Eileen Persike, Editor
From humble agricultural beginnings in the early 20th century to science and technology today, 4-H has certainly come a long way. Programs focus less on what might be considered traditional subjects in the past, and more on citizenship, healthy living, science and mentoring. Oneida County’s 4-H program is keeping up with the global trend of technology oriented focus, offering STEM projects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) that include Legos, astronomy, model rocket building and robotics. As a matter of fact, 4-H is propelling one long-time club member into a career in aerospace. From the time he was young, Adam Engel says he was a kid who only wanted Legos – the kits with the most parts—for Christmas, so he could build stuff.
“One time I wanted to build a jeep with my Legos, one that drives,” he recalled. “I spent…I don’t know how much time putting together the pieces that I wanted. I eventually got it; I’d get one section put together and it kind of worked, so I would have to take it apart and put it back together stronger, better.”
Engel, a senior in the fall at Rhinelander High School, exemplifies the 4-H slogan, learn by doing. In school, the tech ed classes are his favorites, and as a member of the robotics team, Engel designed by trial and error, an integral part of the robot that couldn’t be found.
“It was tough to figure it out,” Engel said. “We had one piece that we needed…we were trying to get these balls up in the air, and it had these sliding pieces, pieces that we couldn’t find anywhere so I ended up designing and 3-D printing it.”
The focus and perseverance that kept him on task as a youngster building a Lego jeep, and more recently with that robot design lead him naturally to mechanical engineering, robotics and even aerospace 4-H projects. In middle school, Engel met up with a group of 4-H kids throughout Wisconsin and bused to Huntsville, Alabama for a 3-day Space Camp. This past February he attended a week-long Advanced Space Camp, which allowed campers the opportunity for much more thinking, planning and hands-on ‘doing.’
“For the three day camp, everyone got the same model rocket kit, we built them and then went outside to launch them,” Adam said. “For the advanced camp, we (in teams of four) had to launch an egg at least ten feet in the air and back down safe. We had a budget, so we planned out what we would need, got all the parts and stuck them together. Ours… almost worked.”
Every night the campers had a challenge, such as building a space suit for an apple. But without a doubt, space shuttle simulations were the most fun.
“We did four one-hour simulated missions,” Engel said. “Two turns in mission control, one on the ISS (International Space Station) where we had experiments to do; and one rotation in the shuttle, where we had to take off and land again.”
Did his team encounter any problems during their missions?
“Well… we accidently crashed the ISS,” Engel replied with a grin. “Two times. Oops.”
So where does a 17-year old who has (simulated) mission control experience and has survived (simulated) crash landings go from here? Adam Engel is planning on getting a degree in Aerospace Engineering. He said he thinks the ISS will be a focus for NASA, which is also talking about sending a human to Mars. Engel says he believes that will happen in his lifetime. And then there are the private companies working toward space exploration.
“They are kind of promoting low earth orbit and back flights,” according to Engel. “One of the companies has inflatable space station. And one is creating rockets that return to their launch pads- so they can use them again. Rockets are a very expensive big piece of hardware– you don’t want to have to keep building new ones!”
Specifically, Engel says he is still deciding between a career in engineering or piloting. Does he want to be an astronaut?
“It would be cool,” Engel answered. “That. Would be cool.”