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Intro to Engineering Students Given Unique Challenges


Tape, plastic cups, scissors and marbles don’t sound like the typical tools of engineering students. Neither do marshmallows and toothpicks.

However, in Surry Community College’s Intro to Engineering EGR-150 class, students get hands-on experience with problem-solving and troubleshooting using common everyday items.

Students in Math Instructor Christian Payne’s engineering class were recently challenged to create a track along a wall using plastic cups and tape as the main tools so a marble could travel along the course. The enthusiastic students created zig zags for the marble and even a little jump. The course took the marble a total of 32 second to complete.

"It is a joy to watch these students work together to solve problems. They delegated responsibilities, developed strategic plans, and improved their design along the way. I am excited to see what these students will accomplish this semester,” Payne said.

The students were next challenged to create a structure using only toothpicks and marshmallows. They were also given a budget to buy their supplies. Working in four different teams, students creatively came up with different solutions to create the tallest and strongest marshmallow tower.

image of person with spaghetti noodle and marshmallow tower
Surry Early College student Emmanuel Ramirez Montoya of Mount Airy builds a tower using only marshmallows and toothpicks as a part of a hand-on assignment in Intro to Engineering EGR-150 at Surry Community College.

Another assignment this semester involved students building paper forts. Each lab assignment includes documentation including reflection questions, design layout, a budget and delegation assignments among team members.

Students are now learning programming languages and robotics in this course that is designed to provide students with an overview of the engineering profession. EGR-150 is a class that is approved for college transfer to the North Carolina University System as an introductory engineering class or elective course requirement. EGR-150 is offered in the fall at SCC. There are no pre-requisites or corequisites for the class.

Students are currently learning a simplified version of the C++ programming language called Arduino IDE to program robots.

“We have been working with the Arduino robots this semester. A few weeks ago, we were playing music on the Arduino robots (e.g. Happy Birthday, Fur Elise, and Super Mario), and we have been learning how to write mathematical programs (e.g. code that solves quadratic equations, code for the bisection method, code to solve a system of two linear equations, etc.). By the end of the course, we should be able to program the robots to move around and dodge obstacles,” Payne said.

Payne instructs the hands-on portion of the class, while the class lecture is taught by Dr. Gopal Sapkota, SCC Physics Instructor. Class topics include goal setting and career assessment, ethics, public safety, the engineering method and design process, written and oral communication, interpersonal skills and team building, and computer applications. Upon completion, students should understand the engineering process, the engineering profession and utilize college resources to meet their educational goals.

Students taking EGR-150 plan to transfer from Surry Community College to a university to major in Engineering. If you would like more information about this class or any of SCC’s math classes, contact Dr. Susan Worth, Mathematics Division, at (336) 386-3357 or

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