Engineering Expo Engages Families in Field of Engineering

March 6, 2023

By Holly Hinson
Six-year-old Nina Grokh poses with her 1st place award-winning balsa wood bridge she designed and built for the E-Expo competition.

Six-year-old Nina Grokh poses with her 1st place award-winning balsa wood bridge she designed and built for the E-Expo competition.

Engineering Exposition (E-Expo) is an annual event and long-standing tradition at Speed School of Engineering dating back to the 1970s.  Sponsored by Speed School Student Council, the event aims to expose local K-12 students to STEM fields, to showcase student competitions and research, and to promote the University of Louisville, the J.B. Speed School of Engineering, and the Speed School Student Council to the local community.

E-Expo 2023, with the theme of Engineering through the Decades, featured keynote speaker Mike Goodrow of Boeing, who spoke about changes he’s seen in engineering over his career in the defense industry.

Students had registered to participate in the balsa wood bridge and the Rube Goldberg competitions, and engineering departments were on hand to showcase their disciplines and perform STEM demonstrations.

In the lobby of the JB Speed building, teacher and club sponsor Pam Hanson from Woodland Middle School in Northern Kentucky brought a group of STEM-interested students who were checking out virtual reality headsets.

Hanson, who is in her 11th year of teaching, said she attended E-Expo before COVID, and this is her first year back. “I like to encourage students to think about pursuing engineering careers,” said Hanson. “We need engineers, there are always problems to be solved, and it’s also just fun.”

Siblings Jacob and Kailyn Hornsby, 12 and 11, respectively, were part of Hanson’s group and both participated in engineering competitions. “We are doing this field trip as part of a Construction 101 class and I entered the bridge competition,” said Jacob.

Kailyn, who designed a Rube Goldberg project for competition, said she has always been interested in projects like this since her Dad is in construction. “It took about two months to put it all together, and we did a lot of testing and taking things apart to rework it,” she said of her project. “I wanted to come here so I could see many different designs and if I do this next year, I can better my project.”

Dr. Erin Gerber, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Affairs and Industrial Engineering professor, said the event is a great way to inspire and encourage younger students to explore the many fields of engineering. “E-Expo is really our opportunity to bring in the community, especially students K-8. High school kids as well, but we really want to get to students when they’re younger to get them to see what STEM can do, what engineers can do, and get them interested in the field and have some fun while they’re out here.”

Expo attendee and Louisville resident Natalya Grokh definitely agrees with the idea of introducing STEM concepts early to children. She and her husband are parents to two girls, Nina, 6 and Maya, 3. Grokh said they have been exposing her girls to science concepts since they were babies.

“As parents we thought what kind of example do we want to set for our children and we realized there is still a lot of need, and a lack of women in tech fields still,” said Grokh. “Why not introduce that as an environment?”

Grokh noted that she read Madame Curie was only three and a half years old when she was inspired by her father’s cabinet filled with colorful vials of chemicals. “That was her moment and it became her calling for the rest of her life.”

For months, Grokh was been working with 6-year old Nina on bridges so she could compete in the balsa wood bridge competition at E-Expo.

“Our family went to the Maker Faire earlier this year and saw model bridges there. She’s been at this since before Thanksgiving starting with Popsicle stick bridges and doing other people’s designs and modifying them,” she said.

All that effort paid off when Nina’s bridge was the winner in her age category for the competition.

Nina’s mom said her older daughter is precocious and creative in her interests, recently designing a series of monsters with felt. “She used kid-friendly materials and she did it on her own,” said Grokh. “These are formative years, and if we expose her to DIY, by the time she’s 18, if she’s interested she’ll have the tools.”

Griffin Gould, sophomore in Mechanical Engineering and Services Vice-president for Speed School Student Council, said he wished he had an event like E-Expo when he was a student in middle and high school.

“When I was in school I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, I just knew I was good at math and science,” he said. “I bounced around different ideas, like working for NASA, or robotics or working in a factory. With the Speed School Societies set up and different disciplines here to talk about the engineering majors, E Expo is a good way to get exposed to what engineering really is and to see that tech in person,” said Gould.

For E-Expo visitor Gerald Hubbs and his teenaged grandson, Speed School is a family affair. A Mechanical Engineering alum who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in 1964 and a Master’s degree in 1976, Hubbs said his family is full of engineers.  “I have two brothers, two sons, four cousins, two of them women,” he said. “There is a total of 11 of us representing three generations of Speed School grads,” said Hubbs.

He currently has one grandson at Speed who is a senior in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and is hoping to encourage the younger one to attend as well.  Hubbs said his family sponsored two classrooms in Sackett Hall that bear their name. “We are a Speed School family, for sure.”

View full photo album of E-Expo 2023.