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Weston Cormier, a junior at St. Joseph School in Plaucheville, La., knelt behind a small catapult slightly larger than a shoebox that he and several classmates had cobbled together with wooden dowels, cardboard, string, rubber bands, electrical tape and Velcro.

Cormier was preparing to participate in a contest during the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Engineering and Technology Expo on Wednesday. The event is for high school students and educators who want to learn about engineering majors and careers.

“Our biggest challenge was making an arm that was strong and wouldn’t break from the force,” Cormier explained moments before the competition began.

Challenge met. When Cormier pulled a short piece of string that triggered the wooden lever, it hurled an orange Ping-Pong ball about 20 feet. The ball landed inside a plastic ring taped to a lab floor inside UL Lafayette’s Rougeau Hall.

The exercise wasn’t mere fun and games. It was meant to illustrate the concept of stored energy, said Todd Crabtree, a junior mechanical engineering major at the University.

“In terms of engineering, an example of the dynamics of stored energy would be a machine that requires a spring-loaded device to function,” Crabtree explained.

Crabtree was among hundreds of engineering students who volunteered for the expo, helping faculty and staff members guide lab tours, discuss engineering research and give demonstrations. Prospective engineering majors also got an opportunity to interact with industry professionals, who offered career advice.

The College of Engineering’s yearly expo is geared toward high school students who are exploring engineering majors, or who plan to study engineering but are still mulling which discipline to pursue or which school to attend, said Dr. Ahmed Khattab, interim dean of the College of Engineering.

Khattab said the expo also provides “good exposure for the college because the public gets a chance to see what we offer.”

“This is our most comprehensive tour. It helps to promote engineering and technology as a career, and it helps to recruit students,” he said.

Caitlin Miguez, a senior at Loreauville High School who plans to study chemical engineering, knows exactly what she wants to do once she earns a bachelor’s degree. She envisions working for a cosmetics company, formulating beauty products that are safer than makeup laden with chemicals and contaminants such as formaldehyde, lead or mercury. 

Miguez just isn’t sure where she’ll enroll this fall. That’s why she attended the expo. “I wanted to see what UL is like and get a feel for the engineering experience here.”

Photo caption: High school and elementary students, parents and educators toured labs, heard about faculty and student research projects, interacted with industry professionals, viewed demonstrations and participated in competitions during UL Lafayette’s Engineering and Technology Day on Wednesday. Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette