Aryanna Pham and her teammates watched as homemade devices on both sides of them sent small pumpkins soaring 200 to 300 feet away, to oohs and aahs from the crowd at the 11th annual Pumpkin Launch on Saturday.
It was impressive, Pham said. But her team, Cal State Fullerton’s Society of Women Engineers, had their own strategy. They were focusing on accuracy, not power with the cross-bow catapult they had fashioned from scratch with recyclable materials.
“We can win if the boys don’t mess with us,” Pham said with a laugh. “They keep moving our target.”
The team, which has participated in seven of the 11 competitions, looked good in the practice session — not only hitting the closest target, a castle, at about 100 feet, but also getting the pumpkin through a hole in the castle twice, which doubled the points.
Pumpkin hurling wasn’t the only activity going on at the CSUF athletic fields. As part of the event, a partnership between CSUF and Discovery Cube, there were dozens of stations set up where young people could participate in a variety of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related activities.
Jessalyn Handaja, Britney Chen and Madi Chow, all 16 and students at Walnut High School, were demonstrating to 5-year-old Bennett Griffiths what happens if you fill plastic film containers with water and alka seltzer, put a lid on and shake it.
“Whoa,” said Bennett, of Los Angeles, who was there with his grandmother, Jan Treacy. “It blew up, went up high and bounced.”
In another area, Nadine Tong, 15, and Jennah Reyes, 17, of San Juan Hills High School in San Juan Capistrano were teaching adults and children how to make their own catapults out of a spoon, Popsicle sticks and rubber bands. The makeshift catapults could be used at another table to shoot marshmallows at targets.
At other tables, Cal State Fullerton engineering and computer science clubs had various projects on display.
“We have partnered with Discovery Center for many years now, and we want to have engagement with the communities and families in the area,” said Susamma “Susan” Barua, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
“The whole idea is to make children understand that we use science and math very heavily in computer science and engineering, so it is important to pay attention to the math and science classes in school so they can do very well here.”
CSUF had five teams competing for the Pumpkin Trophy this year: the Society of Women Engineers, which placed third last year; the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering student chapter; the American Society of Civil Engineers; the Partnership for Applied Engineering and Theta Tau, which won second place last year.
Santa Ana College entered the competition for the first time this year. Other teams were from Sunny Hills High in Fullerton, Joan McQueen Middle School in Alpine, the Cal Baptist American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Band of Cousins from Eastvale, Medieval Mayhem and Senioritis, which has students from CSUF, UC Riverside, Chapman University and UCLA and placed first last year.
Team members from the Santa Ana College Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers had their hands full making tweaks and repairs to their ballista catapult.
Group president Bryan Ramirez said that two weeks before the competition, the device had fallen out of his truck and they had to quickly rebuild it.
But that challenge was part of reason he suggested the group enter the competition.
“It’s an engineering club and we didn’t do anything hands on, which I thought didn’t make sense,” Ramirez said.
CSUF’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering chapter debuted a new trebuchet-style launcher that was designed using trigonometry and physics concepts.
Team captain Mary Vu said the team hoped to prove the doubters wrong.
“There are going to be a lot of people — and factors in life — who will tell you that you can’t do it, especially if it’s something out of the norm,” Vu said. “But one thing that should never stop you is your gender and your major.”
In the competition, teams earn 10,000 points for hitting the closest target, 20,000 for the next target 150 feet away, 30,000 for the target 225 feet away and 40,000 for the target at 340 feet.
But once the Pumpkin Launch started, it wasn’t the high-scoring event the announcer had predicted.
In fact, it was a two-team race. The Society of Women Engineers and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering were the only teams to hit the targets in all three rounds.
At the end of the second round came the announcement that the Santa Ana College team’s device had broken down and they were dropping out.
But Ramirez wasn’t having any of that. He and his team grabbed their tools and got to work.
“It snapped, literally broke and almost hit me in the face,” he said of their device. “But we don’t give up. We never give up.”
At the start of the third round, the announcer said Santa Ana College was back in the competition, to cheers from the crowd.
At the end, girl power ruled. The Society of Women Engineers and their focus on accuracy won the day — with 50,000 points.
The Institute of Electrical Engineering came in second with 20,000.
“It’s exciting,” said Pham after a group hug.
“We worked really hard on it,” she said about their crossbow catapult. “It broke halfway through but we fixed it.”
Juan Aguilar, a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineering team, was also celebrating with his teammates.
“We have a competition with them but we’re happy we both placed,” he said about his female CSUF colleagues. “Next year, we’re looking to beat them.”
CSUF News Services contributed to this story
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