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Catapults and drones: Aerospace companies look to inspire students through hands-on projects

On Wednesday, Feb. 23, Mike Fridolfs, site director of Northrop Grumman’s Grand Sky location, teamed up with home-grown aviation and aerospace company ISight Drone Services, to bring engineering and unmanned systems activities to middle school students.

eweek 2022.jpeg
Emerado Public School students participating in STEM activities with Northrop Grumman and ISight staff, on Wednesady, Feb 23.
Contributed / Northrop Grumman
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GRAND FORKS — Northrop Grumman has been involved with Engineers Week for decades, and it is a tradition the company is continuing at schools in the Grand Forks region, with some local help.

On Wednesday, Feb. 23, Mike Fridolfs, site director of Northrop Grumman’s Grand Sky location, teamed up with home-grown aviation and aerospace company ISight Drone Services, to bring engineering and unmanned systems activities to middle school students. Fridolfs and representatives of the two companies visited Nathan Twining Elementary and Middle School at Grand Forks Air Force Base and the public school in Emerado, with mini drones and popsicle stick catapult kits.

Fridolfs said he is hoping the activities will help inspire the next generation of engineers and inventors, some of whom may take an interest in working at an aerospace company in the region.

“Engineers Week is an exciting time for us at Northrop Grumman, and each year we look forward to bringing learning opportunities to our local students in Grand Forks and surrounding areas to show them the future of autonomous technologies,” he said. “We’re encouraging a future generation of engineers who will help deliver innovative, quality products and services to promote global security and human advancement. Who knows, maybe this week we’ve inspired the next Hedy Lamarr or Thomas Edison.”

READ MORE EDUCATION COVERAGE HERE

Sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students got a taste of physics in action when they built the catapults and launched small fluffy balls across the tables. They were going to try launching “jawbreaker” candies — but ate them instead.

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The 2,000-year-old technology may be a look at the past, but Fridolfs is hoping the engineering behind the device interests them in the future. He put on a similar activity last year with mousetrap-powered cars that shot across the floor of a hangar at Northrop’s Grand Sky location next to GFAFB.

The future was also on display, as ISight employees set up an area walled off by nets in which they flew small-sized drones. Students got to fly those drones as well, and Cheryl Waters, a middle school science and social studies teacher at Emerado, said they quickly picked up the skill.

“It was a blast,” she said. “(The students) were engaged.”

Just as impressive, and a bit intimidating at first, was a larger ISight drone that came equipped with a thermal camera. Students got to see thermal images of themselves on a monitor. Waters said she thinks the activity might have kindled a future career interest in some students.

“They saw how (the drones) work, heard about what they can do with them and enjoyed flying them,” she said.

Which is exactly the point. EWeek was founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers to help ensure a diverse and skilled engineering workforce. Northrop, a global technology and autonomous symptoms company, has participated in EWeek for decades, Fridolfs said. The fun and interesting activities are meant to open students’ eyes to a world they might not have thought of before.

“Together with ISight, this EWeek activity lets us educate kids at all levels and gets them excited about STEM, which fuels the pipeline for the region’s future engineering jobs,” Fridolfs said.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONNORTHRUP GRUMAN
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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