RET Days brings STEM to MCC

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published December 10, 2014

 Brian Hamilton, of Siemens Industrial, assists dad David Preece and Sarah Ellis, 10, and his daughter Madelynn Preece, also 10. Both Ellis and Preece are in the fifth grade and homeschooled. Here, they work on an automation project related to stop lights. The Preeces are from Royal Oak, and Ellis is from Troy.

Brian Hamilton, of Siemens Industrial, assists dad David Preece and Sarah Ellis, 10, and his daughter Madelynn Preece, also 10. Both Ellis and Preece are in the fifth grade and homeschooled. Here, they work on an automation project related to stop lights. The Preeces are from Royal Oak, and Ellis is from Troy.

Photos by Deb Jacques

WARREN — Local students with an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) had the opportunity to further explore those areas during the ninth annual Robotics, Engineering and Technology (RET) Days Dec. 2-3 at Macomb Community College’s South Campus. 

Every year, college officials open the school’s Sports and Expo Center for RET Days, which offers presentations in mechatronics, robotics, advanced automotive, renewable energy, Lego robots, underwater robotics, electric vehicles and more.

This year’s RET Days brought in sixth- through 12th-grade students from Macomb, Wayne, Oakland and Genesee counties. MCC faculty members set up several “pods” where they gave an overview on a particular topic and then let the student experience hands-on activities.

Several college instructors were presenters, as were a number of outside professionals who talked about their careers in STEM. MCC Dean of Engineering and Advanced Technology Joe Petrosky thought this year’s event went very well.

“Looking at the kids and what they’re doing, they’re engaged and having fun. They’re going away from here with a good feeling about technology,” he said. “There are STEM jobs that are in demand right now in computers, robotics and electronics. The main thing is inciting their interests in these types of careers. We always find new things to incorporate.”

Carter Middle School educator James Swank brought his two engineering in the future and engineering for the environment classes, which totaled about 70 students.

“They seem to be pretty interested in the technology and the hands-on stuff,” Swank said, adding that STEM courses are electives in Warren Consolidated Schools, where Carter is located. “I think it’s good to get them interested in what’s out there and what they can do.”

RET Days marked the first time Carter seventh-grader Benjamin Pienta visited a college campus. At one pod, he and his classmates learned there was a time in which the fastest speed a car went was 20 miles per hour.

“That was fast way back when,” Pienta said.

Pienta is a big fan of Legos and hoped his class had an opportunity to check out the Lego robots at pod N. 3. He likes to check out on YouTube the different functioning items that can be made with Lego robots, including ATMs, and pop and candy machines.

“This is where you can get inspired,” he said of RET Days. “You can create.”

At one station, students got a close-up look at how clay is used as a tool to develop car designs. At another pod, MCC renewable energy program advisor Lisa Richter talked to students about all the things renewing, recycling and reusing can produce. Behind Richter as she spoke were a three-wheeled trike, a lorry that ran on biofuel, and a custom-built wheelchair used with renewable energy. A lorry is similar to a go-cart.

All three modes of transportation were made by past MCC students of the renewable energy program. Richter shared information with the students about each item. The solar-powered trike, for example, was built with goods that were 90 percent “garbage” and 10 percent new. The trike featured two chairs made from recycled plastic, and the battery was located inside a recycled water jug. The students bought bicycles at garage sales and used the parts for the trike.

“There’s a tracking device that will follow the sun with the solar panel,” Richter said.

Many students, Chippewa Valley High School junior Reggie Redding, couldn’t wait to test out the trike.

“It was fun. It was different and very creative,” Redding said. “I felt like I was in a real car.”

Redding said the RET Days was worthwhile for students. 

“You can learn all new things and stuff you never thought about,” he said. 

“The trike is popular,” Petrosky said. Another area the students seemed to like were the radio-controlled vehicles that run on batteries. The students like to make them race as fast as possible.

Students got a feel that many of the jobs related to STEM require training after high school. Manufacturing, for example, is still a sought-after skill, and Petrosky said today’s employers are looking for employees who have 21st century skills and a background in how manufacturing was done in past years.

It used to be that a high school diploma was all that was required in manufacturing. But with advances in technology, Petrosky said more training is needed in the field.