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Engineering Program Raising Money for High School STEM Club

Students will build structures and sponsor drone races to benefit Notre Dame High School in Fairfield

Sacred Heart University students in Professor Tolga Kaya’s engineering explorations course have arranged a drone race to raise funds for Notre Dame High School’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) club.

The event will begin Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 12:30 p.m. in the Art & Design Gallery, adjacent to the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts. Participants will pay a small fee to race drones, and all proceeds will go to the Fairfield school’s STEM club.

This is the first fundraiser Kaya and his class have planned as part of their effort to raise $5,000 for the club.

Both the computer engineering program and Kaya, its director, are new to SHU. When the fall semester came to a close, he asked his computer engineering and 3+2 dual degree engineering students, what they wanted to do in the spring engineering explorations course.

“This class is a continuation of engineering 101,” Kaya said. “During the fall semester, students learned about various fields of engineering. This semester, I wanted them to do a big project, something where they could all work together…I also wanted to attach service learning to engineering. So, we talked about what we could do.”

The class decided to work with drones, but Kaya still wanted to tie in the service-learning component, to align his class with the University’s mission. After receiving some guidance from the Office of Volunteer Programs & Service Learning, Kaya discovered the STEM club at Notre Dame needed funding.

“I found out they had a zero-dollar budget,” Kaya said. “I couldn’t believe it. They had no money. It broke my heart, so I thought ‘Okay, we’ll raise money for that.’”

Freshman Nate Barone said the class of about 20 students had no problem agreeing to help the club. “We needed to come together for this,” Barone said. “We just all jumped on board.”

Groups of students were given a budget and were tasked with designing a large drone cage or tent out of materials that could be purchased at Home Depot. The tent enables students to fly and race the small drones in a contained area to avoid safety concerns.

Once students obtained the materials, construction began. Throughout the planning and building processes, Notre Dame’s STEM club students buddied up with the SHU students, watching and aiding every step of the way.

“It’s been fun,” Barone said. “We had to find materials that would come in under budget. We made a shopping list. My group realized we could use PVC piping to make the tent. It’s cheap and easy to connect.”

On Feb. 13, Kaya’s students will set up their tents in the Art & Design Gallery Atrium. For a small fee, the public can fly and race drones through the tents from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Prizes will be raffled off, and all money raised will go to the STEM club.

With a goal to raise $5,000 in all, Kaya’s class plans to host more events in the near future.

Throughout the semester, students will take on more technological challenges as they build other structures in which to fly drones, such as rigging the tents with sensors and electronics. At one point, they will build their own small drones, Kaya said.

“We’re going to keep moving forward,” he said. “We’re excited.”