Carnegie Mellon University
September 16, 2015

CEE Summer Spotlight: Pierce Sinclair

CEE Summer Spotlight: Pierce Sinclair

Pierce SinclairPierce Sinclair

We recently caught up with Pierce Sinclair (BS ’17), who spent his summer mentoring young engineers with the National Society of Black Engineers’ (NSBE) Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) program.

The free, three-week summer camp prepares kids for potential futures in engineering and exposes them to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. Pierce gave us insights to the programs, anecdotes about the kids, and revealed how his CEE courses prepared him for his summer experience.

CEE: What did you do this summer?

Pierce: This summer I decided to travel to Los Angeles and work with the National Society of Black Engineers’ SEEK program, so I got a chance to teach fifth grade students different engineering concepts for three weeks. We taught them engineering terms, how free body diagrams work, and at the end of each week they got to give presentations and do competitions with the different items they built.

CEE: What kinds of projects did you help the kids with?

Pierce: The idea behind it was to give the students the task of building a toy that is environmentally friendly and could be packaged and sold in the market. They were building three toy projects: a gravity cruiser, a fuel cell car, and a glider. A gravity cruiser uses a lever supported by a fulcrum and a weight to drive an axle to propel it forward. A fuel cell car is a conventional toy car chassis with a fuel cell attached to the standard motor, and when the fuel cell is charged with distilled water and some electricity the water is separated into hydrogen and oxygen atoms to then power the motor. The gliders are created using polystyrene for the wings and stabilizers and balsa wood for the fuselage. At the end of each week the students would compete with their completed toys in two or three physical competitions of time, distance, accuracy, and artistic design, as well as give an oral presentation.

CEE: What classes or experiences in the CEE program prepared you for your work this summer?

Pierce: With Engineering Statics class you have a lot of free body diagrams. A free body diagram shows all the forces acting on an object, and that includes any force acting upward, downward, left to right. So from Engineering Statics I knew that showing the kids different free body diagrams gave them a feeling of how their gravity cruisers and fuel cells worked.

CEE: Has any CEE faculty member had an influence on your teaching style?

Pierce: Professor Jim Thompson has had some influence on me, because even though sometimes you might not like the subject, he teaches it in a way that makes you pay attention. I kind of had that approach in class where the kids might not like what I had to say at first, but I was really doing it so they’d come back and I’d get their attention.

CEE: Do any moments from this summer stand out as particularly impactful?

Pierce: After my training week, when I learned how to build all the toys myself, I was worried about how the kids would do with the gravity cruiser. It was the most difficult to build and required a lot of teamwork. I was worried that I would disappoint the kids if their gravity cruiser didn't work. But my students followed the instructions and built their gravity cruisers piece-by-piece in teams, and all of them were capable of moving. That moment when all five hand-built cruisers moved meant so much to me because it was one of those moments where the students were teaching me for a change. It also assured that the students were learning from the program and are capable of venturing into the STEM fields.

CEE: How did this summer influence your professional goals?

Pierce: It’s reinforced that I still want to do civil engineering. I would like to work with something related to transportation, whether that’s with a railroad company or even on the government scale working with the Transportation Safety Board. But this summer does make me want to have more involvement in outreach even after I graduate. Even though I might be working a 40-hour job or something, I still want to be able to do outreach with kids.