CONSIDERATIONS FOR PLANNING AND RUNNING EDUCATIONAL ENGINEERING CONTESTS
Daniel B. Bedore - Lead Author and Presenter
Nip Shah, PhD
Educational goals and other requirements to successfully run design contests for university engineering students are discussed. The authors held human powered submarine design contests and races in Escondido, California in the summers of 2000, 2002 and 2004. These events were specifically designed to expose university engineering students to the types of decisions and processes an engineer in industry would face 5-10 years after receiving a bachelorís degree in engineering. In building a submarine for this contest, students gained technical expertise in conceptual and detail design and manufacturing, experience in teamwork and time management, and exposure to gaining funding and controlling expenditures. At the contest, oral presentations simulate industrial final design reviews, and races simulate functional tests and demonstrations for customers. Lessons and examples drawn from planning and running HPS2000, HPS2002, and HPS2004 are included and may be useful to persons planning similar educational engineering contests, and to contestants in such events.
HPS200X EVENT DESCRIPTION
HPS2000, HPS2002 and HPS2004 each attracted 8-9 teams from various universities spread throughout the United States and Canada. Typical teams spent 1-2 years designing and building submarines to prepare for the competitions. The HPS200X events included an evening of oral presentations followed by 3-4 days of in-water speed trials. Each team had 15 minutes during the oral presentations to explain the various tradeoffs made in designing and building their submarine. Judges were instructed to select those teams who best convinced the judges that their submarineís technical features were properly designed, analyzed, and implemented. For the speed trials, the Offshore Model Basin, a wave and tow tank approximately 4 meters deep, 15 meters wide, and 91 meters long, was rented. Along one side of the basin, the submarines accelerated, went through a 10 meter speed trap, and decelerated. On the other side of the tank, the submarines returned to the starting end. Cranes to lift the submarines in and out of the water, the diver entry and exit area, and underwater pit areas were also located on the return side of the basin. Each team would enter the tank for about 45 minutes, take several runs through the speed trap, then exit the basin to rest, make repairs to the submarine, and prepare for the next run. Teams entered the tank several times during the contest. The speed trap was calibrated and monitored to the standards required by the International Human Powered Vehicle Association and Guinness World Records so that any records could be documented and recognized by these organizations. The world record speed for one person, non-propeller driven Human Powered Submarines was twice broken at HPS200X events, first by Scott Ketchum of the University of California at San Diego in 2000 (3.41 knots, 1.75 m/s), then by Adam Maisano of Virginia Tech in 2004 (3.57 knots, 1.84 m/s). Between visits to the tank, the teams were visited by the judges to determine the winners of various technical awards. At the end of the contest, awards were given for best presentation, design, manufacturing, creativity, operations, and safety, for overall engineering, and for highest speed for one and two occupant submarines of propeller and non-propeller design.
CONCEPTUAL DESIGN OF CONTESTS
The first step to creating a successful contest is to come up with a concept which is compelling enough to inspire students to design and construct a device to compete, yet sufficiently difficult that they will learn enough to compensate for the time and resources spent. The contest must be safe, financially viable, and possible given the constraints of personnel, facilities, and equipment. The same constraints apply to the contestants, it must be safe and feasible to construct and operate the contest device. The ASME San Diego Section had the good fortune to receive a proposal to hold submarine design contests from the students of the University of California at San Diego in the fall of 1999. These students informed us that several university teams, including themselves, had built submarines to compete in various planned submarine races. Unfortunately, some of these events had been cancelled due to difficulties in organization. That left the students with completed submarines and no place to race. A committee was formed by the board of the ASME San Diego Section to determine whether a Human Powered Submarine Design Contest was within the mission of the section, and whether it would be safe and feasible. After 2 months of study, is was determined that such a contest would meet the educational goals of the San Diego Section of the ASME. Furthermore, since student teams had built and operated submarines, and since other submarine contests had been safely held, the HPS200X contests were feasible. Finally, it was clear that the studentsí enthusiasm for building such a complex vehicle, learning to scuba dive, and operating it was more than sufficient to inspire them to complete a vehicle for competition.
Any educational event must be designed to teach its participants enough to ensure that the money, equipment, and human costs expended are recuperated in the education received. For the HPS200X events, with cash costs around $20,000US, a similar amount in loaned equipment, a dozen people planning for 8-12 months, and 80 volunteers for 4-5 days at the events, the education achieved must be substantial. For the HPS200X events, the primary goal was to expose engineering students with no professional engineering experience to tasks and situations that a practicing engineer would be expected to deal with 5 to 10 years after completing an engineering degree and entering the workforce. For example, with 5 years of experience, an engineer would begin to be involved in design at the conceptual stage. Some understanding and involvement with program budgets and schedules would be expected, as would be presentations and demonstrations to suppliers and customers. Although at 5 years there would be considerable oversight of these activities, at 10 years, engineers are expected to perform them independently. The HPS200X design contests were held with the goal of exposing engineering students to the work environment they would face 5-10 years after graduation so that once they entered the workforce, they could immediately begin to appreciate and learn about these aspects of the engineering profession. In doing so, they would gain a substantial advantage over other entry level engineers who would need several years of experience to comprehend the importance and scope of these skills. These substantial educational goals justified the vast resources expended on the HPS200X design contests.
To achieve the educational goals of a design contest, the project must be of an appropriate level of technical sophistication. Students designing and constructing a machine which is too simple for the goals of the contest may skip over various design or manufacturing steps which the contest organizers intended the students to experience. In a project which is too complex, contestants may bog down at some intermediate step and not experience lessons they should have picked up later in the project. The educational goals of the HPS200X contests required a very complex and challenging project. Complexity and challenge in engineering projects come from technical problems, limited budgets and schedules, interpersonal issues in teams, and many other constraints. To have each competing team come up with a different solution to a common problem, HPS200X controlled the technical goal of the project to be a submarine which was both fast and met the criteria for human powered submarine world speed records. It was also mandatory that the submarine met certain safety rules. However, to the maximum extent possible, all other team operations were left uncontrolled. Thus, each team had to make decisions about conceptual and detail design, manufacturing, and testing. Each decision required analysis of displaced mass, hydrodynamics and stress of the hull and propeller, safety of the crew, available budget and schedule, and many other considerations. The project freedom given to the HPS200X contestants was intended to simulate the broad design and management options available to working engineers.
In developing new technology, an engineer considers various conceptual designs which may solve the given problem. The engineer may develop and analyze multiple concepts, eliminate a few, and continue this downselecting cycle until only one concept is left for the project. Selecting the best possible concept is crucial to successful engineering projects since the end product can be no better than the potential of the implemented concept. In engineering school, few students have the opportunity to develop the concept for a complex machine, develop the design details and manufacture the machine, then compete their machine against several other machines with different design concepts. HPS200X provides an opportunity not only to gain conceptual design experience with a complex machine, but also to see that the fundamental weakness or strength of a design concept can substantially influence the success of a machine.
Next in the technology development process is careful detail design and analysis of each part of the machine. A common design mistake made by student and entry level engineers is to do a proper analysis of most aspects of a part, but to ignore some other crucial aspect. Since few of the designs a student may develop in university engineering classes are built and used, the feedback of seeing a part function properly or fail is rarely available to students. The HPS200X events provide the student engineers with this feedback opportunity for all parts of the submarine. For example, an early mistake in hydrodynamic or stress analysis of a propeller may result in cavitation or bent blades. An even more basic design flaw such as inaccessible bolts holding the propeller in place may mean the propeller cannot be removed and repaired or replaced quickly enough to reenter the submarine for another trial. Memories of such design failures should inspire careful analysis as the students enter the workforce.
Engineers must also arrange to have parts manufactured by appropriate processes and with appropriate control of deviations from design. Entry level engineers usually understand how products will perform when manufactured exactly as designed, but may not anticipate variations in performance due to manufacturing variation in processes, dimensions, and etcetera. In constructing submarines for the HPS200X contests, students laid up, cured, and painted thermoset composite hulls, formed thermoplastic viewports, machined powertrain and propulsion components, and manufactured many other items by a variety of different processes. In doing so, they were not only exposed to the basic manufacturing processes, but also gained an understanding of the difficulty of exactly following recommended procedures and of achieving desired dimensions. Students who witness failure due to the poor manufacture of parts in competition will be cognizant of proper manufacturing control well into their careers.
Testing is an important phase in the development of engineered products. Especially when products are very complex or when some portions of the analysis would be very time consuming, simply building the device and testing it may be more cost effective than complete analysis. Therefore, engineers typically build time into project schedules to test and tweak designs before the project must be complete. The importance of testing before coming to the HPS200X events immediately becomes obvious to the students (and to volunteers and spectators) since approximately half of the submarines have not been in water before. Teams manning those submarines spent the 3-4 days of competition making minor tweaks to their submarines and never achieved the best speeds possible. Competitors with a few days of testing prior to the event did substantially better, and teams with weeks of testing were able to make dozens of high speed runs to achieve the highest possible speed. Students who have competed in the HPS200X events will enter their career with an understanding of the importance of development testing.
Industry has long recognized the importance of having skilled operators for complex machines. Even the best engineered product may perform poorly, break, or even be dangerous in the hands of poorly trained or inexperienced operators. Some teams arrived at the HPS200X contests with no SCUBA diving experience beyond their basic certification course, and had never operated their submarines underwater, while other teams had substantial SCUBA diving and submarine operating experience. As discussed above, teams with extensive testing before the HPS200X events obtained superior results at the events. In addition to ironing out the submarine flaws as discussed previously, this testing provided training to the pilots and other team members. Pilots with substantial training time were able to steer straight down the course and through the timing gates, obtaining fast times, while less experienced pilots were less successful in negotiating the gates and accelerating to high speeds. Other team members who were responsible for repairs and preparation in the dry pit areas and moving the submarine to the starting line in the tank also became substantially more operationally efficient with practice. The HPS200X competitors will know that practice pays as they work in industry.
To commence an engineering project, it is necessary to convince a customer or company of the value of funding the project. Entry level engineers typically have little experience in selling engineering projects, or in controlling budgets once the project has been funded. In preparing to enter the HPS200X competitions some of the teams had to raise whatever money they would spend. In addition to purchasing materials and services to complete their submarines, teams also needed money for scuba training and equipment, travel and shipping, and contest entry fees. Typical team budgets ranged from a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of US Dollars. In seeking this money from universities, student organizations, and corporate sponsors, team members had to make convincing proposals, as they would have to in industry. While spending the money, student needed to consider make versus buy decisions, how much money to pay for how much quality, how many spares should be bought, and etcetera. The complex financial choices teams had to make to prepare for HPS200X simulate the same types of choices engineers need to make in industry.
Working engineers must deal with fluctuating manpower availability and various personality conflicts. Given that the development of a submarine typically takes several semesters, the individuals and the quantity of team members may vary throughout the project. Furthermore, key members may not be available due to exams or vacations when decisions or parts for which they are responsible must be made. Finally, one team member may not understand what another is trying to communicate, or may understand and decide to do something else anyway. Exposure to dysfunctional group dynamics will prepare students for similar situations in industry.
Schedules are an important consideration for working engineers. Failure to complete, test, and perfect a machine before it must be delivered may result in substantial financial repercussions to the company. Teams whose submarines were incomplete and had to catch up to schedule during the HPS200X competitions were hard pressed to effectively compete with better prepared teams, making the importance of meeting schedules clear.
Oral presentations must be given to large groups of customers and suppliers by engineers in industry. To simulate these presentations, each HPS200X competition included an oral presentation contest in which the team member responsible for each aspect of the submarine had to describe what choices the engineering team had considered in designing each part and why the final design was chosen. Between the members of other teams, contest officials, and spectators, the presentations were given to 150-200 people. Such experience in speaking on technical details before large audiences will be valuable to the students in their careers.
Working engineers often design products to requirements in contracts or product specifications. Although HPS200X rules were designed to give maximum design flexibility to the teams, submarines were required to meet the requirements of the International Human Powered Vehicle Association and Guinness World Records. For example, these constraints included no storage of energy from before a run for use in propulsion during the run and a requirement that the submarine totally enclose its occupants. Furthermore, various rules ensured that the occupants of crashed submarines could be rescued easily, including easy to use rescue hatches and occupant harnesses, and clearly marked instructions for rescue. Other rules ensured that timing equipment could identify and locate the submarines. Pre-race inspections often revealed some violations of rules which needed correction before the submarine could be operated. Exposure to such rules violations and required corrective actions simulates the specification compliance issues engineers face in industry.
Products are often demonstrated by working engineers to assure customers that requirements are met. These demonstrations are often quite challenging for engineers since they are often remote from the help available at the factory, the parts demonstrated may be low reliability prototypes, there may be few spare parts available, the environment is often different than during previous tests, and customers may want to operate the device in some unanticipated way. The underwater races at the HPS200X events were designed to simulate this demonstration phase. Non-student advisors were not allowed to enter the water so that students would be forced to make all the decisions that were necessary to operate and fix the submarines during tests. In this way, the HPS200X events simulated industrial product demonstrations.
The preceding paragraphs discussed the opportunities students had to experience the effects poor decisions early in the engineering process can have on the success of the final product, and to experience the types of management challenges inherent to the product development process. During the several days of competition, team members not only had plenty of time to analyze their own submarineís failures, but were also able to converse with other teams about their submarines and project experiences. Extensive discussions with the competitors showed that they were in fact aware not only of what phase of the engineering process had contributed to the successes and failures of their own submarines, but were also able to describe in detail other teamsí experiences.
Between expenditures by the teams and by the HPS200X organizing committee, approximately $100,000US cash was spent, with a similar value of material donations and thousands of manhours of volunteer labor for each event. Still, given the vast quantity of learning opportunities available to the participants, we feel that the HPS200X competitions are worth the resources put into them. Although contestants were only exposed to the various types of problems engineers in industry face, and not to the all the various solutions working engineers use, we feel that exposure to the types of problems that occur in large engineering projects will better enable engineers entering the workforce to educate themselves on methods to recognize and resolve these problems.
GENERAL ORGANIZING CONSIDERATIONS
The following paragraphs discuss items which must be considered by the entire planning committee.
To design an educational engineering contest the organizer(s) must study the tradeoffs between the scope of the educational goals, the scope and content of the contest, and the quantity of human, financial, and material resources to be used. An increase in the educational goals of the contest may require a larger contest scope, which in turn might require greater resources. An increase in the scope or content of the contest not only means more work for the organizers, but also the number of competitors with the time, resources, and enthusiasm to enter may decrease. Furthermore, a highly complex contest may prove too difficult for some entrants, causing them to drop out before the organizerís educational goals are achieved. The organizer must determine whether the educational goals would be best served by limiting the entrants, or if the contest should be open to the general public. Finally, if the human, monetary, and material resources required by the goals and scope of the contest are not available, it may be best to scale back the goals and scope to some achievable level. The goals, scope, and expended resources for the HPS200X events are certainly higher than most educational engineering contests, but the considerations for event planning should be similar regardless of contest size.
A schedule of planning dates should be developed if some members of the organizing committee need information from others to complete their tasks. For example, if an insurer needs a list of participants several weeks before the event, the person registering the contestants will need to set a registration deadline early enough to track down contestants who missed the deadline and compile the list before the insurer needs it. To plan a very complex contests, there may be many such needs to complete tasks for use by other committee members, and a well thought out schedule would be a necessary tool.
It may be useful to have an existing organization, such as a university or professional society, sponsor the contest. The sponsoring organization may be able to provide prestige, administrative support, insurance, money, personnel, and other resources. On the other hand, the sponsoring organization may place constraints on the event such as who may enter or sponsor the event. In the case of the HPS200X contests, the San Diego Section of the ASME was the sponsoring organization, and provided all of the resources listed above, with no consequential constraints.
If the contest is large enough to require more than one organizing person, then good communications between the organizers become crucial. If the various members are well informed as to what other members have accomplished and intend to accomplish, they can share files, and offer advice and assistance. HPS200X officials met monthly until 2 months before the contest, then biweekly and finally weekly. Each member in turn presented and discussed progress and plans for their various responsibilities. In this way, every member knew the status of every other memberís work and was able to offer advice and assistance both during planning and while running the events. Since each member was aware of the work the others had done, it was possible to avoid various members duplicating similar work by other members. Email was also used extensively to share information and files quickly.
When a contest is organized largely or exclusively by volunteers, it is necessary to limit intrusion into the professional and personal lives of the officers. Large numbers of unscheduled or long telephone calls or errands can cause an unacceptable number of interruptions. Properly run meetings and good organization skills can limit excessive errands and calls. Email is an excellent communication medium for volunteers since the receiver can wait until a convenient opportunity to respond. Furthermore, it can convey complicated information and files and agreements between two parties can easily be copied to interested third parties. Volunteers can be rewarded by on the job training, event souvenirs, and awards. Volunteers are an excellent resource for enthusiastic labor, but every effort should be made to ensure that their tasks are reasonable given the time they are willing to dedicate to the event and to avoid excessive disruption of their normal lives. Organizers who burn out may be unwilling to participate in future events or may even curtail their present involvement.
Another consideration when working with volunteers is that some may promise to complete crucial tasks but not deliver. It is important to recruit enthusiastic and reliable organizers, and it is crucial to regularly assess the progress of each key task and to replace or assist an organizer if the progress is insufficient.
If the organizer(s) are not expert at the tasks they are expected to perform, they should take steps to compensate for their weaknesses. For example, prior to planning HPS2000, our first contest, no member of the committee had ever planned an educational contest for university students, nor had anyone run a multi-day event with food, toilets, medical care, etcetera, nor had anyone managed more than 150 contestants and volunteers at an event, nor did any member of the committee know how to scuba dive. Our careful communication of status and crosschecking of work as described above was part of our solution, as was seeking the advice of more experienced people outside the committee. We recruited a member with scuba diving experience onto the committee before HPS2000, and before HPS2002, recruited 2 more and sought training for 2 members in scuba diving. In these ways and many others, we sought to recognize and compensate for our weaknesses.
Organizers should consider whether they intend to hold a single contest or a regular series of contests. This can influence how to staff the event, whether optimal equipment should be acquired, what approach to take with sponsors and vendors, whether to seek training for officers, what type of press coverage to solicit, and, to a lesser extent, virtually every other aspect of the planning process. In studies of some submarine races planned for years preceding ASME Ė San Diego Sectionís involvement, we found that an insufficient number of organizing committee members caused the organizers to work too hard, and to interfere too much with their normal lives. This contributed to their decision to quit organizing events. Organizing committees hoping to hold multiple events should recruit enough planners to ensure that each personís workload is reasonable enough that they will return to offer their experience and labor in future events. It may be possible to justify the cost of equipment unreasonably expensive for a single event if the organizers are confident of multiple events. Especially for planners of multiple events, every effort should be made to keep sponsors informed of the value generated from their investment so they will be excited about additional events. In planning a first event, organizers will discover their weaknesses, and if they intend to hold multiple events, they can seek to train themselves or recruit more suitable members to overcome these weaknesses. Although positive press coverage can be beneficial to single events, it is especially valuable to organizers of multiple events, since potential vendors, sponsors, and volunteers will have pre-existing knowledge and positive opinions of the event when the organizer attempts to recruit them. After the event, planners can write down their experiences, comments on what their plans were and how well they worked out, and suggestions for improvement. Planners can make the jobs of organizers of subsequent events substantially easier by following these suggestions.
SPECIFIC ORGANIZING CONSIDERATIONS
The following paragraphs describe tasks that might be handled by one or more members of the organizing committee.
A good set of rules helps to guide the contestants to achieve the educational goals of the organizer and forces the contestants to comply with other requirements necessary to run the contest. A contest which is intended to educate students about a narrow technical field may need to have tightly constraining rules to keep the contestants from using some other technology to solve the stated problem. On the other hand, if the contest is intended encourage students to select from a broad range of engineering options, rules must be written to maintain compliance with the educational goals and other organizational requirements of the contest while not otherwise constraining the students. Contest organizers often wish to convey to contestants optional useful information and advice in addition to mandatory rules. If rules and other information are mixed, confusion may result, with some contestants treating advice as requirement, or worse, interpreting mandates as optional. Therefore, rules should be separate from other information, and what is mandatory should be clearly labeled as such. Topics which might be addressed in rules include: event location and schedule, methods for judging the contest, methods for determining conformity with rules, methods for addressing protests from contestants, copyright assignment, permission to use names and images in publicity, who may enter the contest, and how to enter, whether non contestants (spectators, reporters, etcetera) may attend the contest, criteria for each prize, technical requirements for the contest device, safety requirements, and requirements for the contest device to interface with contest surveillance equipment, and to not interfere with contest equipment.
ORGANIZATION OF CONTESTANTS
Organization of contestants can be broken down into two logical parts, pre-event and during the event. First to be discussed is the pre-event organization. Ensuring that the contestants understand and abide by the rules, schedules, and other requirements of a contest can be crucial to accomplishing its goals. Depending on the complexity of the contest, it may be possible to accomplish this verbally during the contest, or it may be necessary to distribute several documents including rules, schedules, and forms for application, liability, and medical information, as well as to maintain an extensive website and communicate via substantial email and telephone traffic. Engineering students have very busy schedules and a lack of time to periodically review rules and schedules may cause them to misinterpret, forget, or ignore various items critically needed by the contest organizers. For any but the simplest of contests, it is recommended that every document, form, and other piece of information needed by the contestants be available on a contest website. HPS200X organizers also found it useful to send a periodic email bulletin to all registered contestants and any other interested parties. The bulletins included discussion of upcoming deadlines. Any questions of general interest from the contestants were also discussed in detail. This question and answer format concentrated the bulletin contents on rules and issues misunderstood by or problematic to students. An example of a misunderstood rule that required clarification was one prohibiting submarines from polluting the test basin by excessively shedding materials in the water. Numerous questions on types and quantities of potential pollutants needed to be discussed. An example of a problematic rule was a requirement that only human generated power be used on submarines during speed runs. Teams commented that a strict interpretation of the rules would prohibit the use of compressed air for scuba life support and electrochemical batteries and compressed air for digital ballast and attitude control systems. The organizers modified the rules to state that only human generated power could be used to propel the submarine during speed runs. This bulletin helped the contestants understand and comply with the various contest requirements. Person to person communication may also be required to track down late registration forms and fees. It may be necessary to coordinate travel, lodging and shipping plans for the contestants.
Pre-event organization can be partially reactive in nature, due to the ability to collect questions or issues and answer them after deliberation by the event coordinators. However during the event, organization must be proactive in nature. A wellformulated plan should be created a priori and communicated to the contestants well in advance of the event. The kinds of issues and activities that may need to be worked into the plan are varied. The contestant organizer may need to register contestants, collect any late forms and communicate any timely or changed information. Students may have last minute rule questions or need to know local information such as what vendors sell parts and tools. If each entrant is to receive food, souvenirs, etcetera, that will require additional organization. Any presentations that the teams make in fulfillment of the contest need to be planned with an auditorium or suitable room reserved. If the event involves a race or device related competition, it may be necessary to inspect and sign off all entries to ensure they comply with the rules, both safety and otherwise. If the competition involves putting the contestants in harms way, a mandatory safety briefing should be held as close the eventís start date as possible so all issues are fresh in memory. It may also be necessary to supervise team assembly or ďpitĒ areas to ensure safety, provide tools and spares, and answer other requests from contestants. Competitions that involve access to special facilities require added organization. In the case of HPS200X, the events were held in a large, model-ship testing basin, the rental of which accounted for a significant portion of the operating budget. The race course was a speed trap consisting of underwater video cameras placed a know distance apart. Since speed was the goal, safety divers were positioned along the course to deal with any emergencies that arose while the subs were underway. This setup required many volunteers and much coordination. Only 3 teams are allowed in the basin at any time and there were nine teams at the competition. Operating a human powered submarine can be described as at best complex and problematic especially when manned by students who may have limited diving experience. In order to optimize the teamsí usage of this complex and costly facility a novel system was devised. No set schedule was given to the teams on when they would be allowed in the basin to make speed runs. Instead, as the teams determined their readiness to race, they would notify the Ďrace coordinatorí. This person would consult a list recording the running tally of time that each team had already spent in the basin. If several teams were ready, but only one vacancy existed, the team with the least amount of accrued time would be allowed to use the facility next. In this way, the teams had a vested interest in their efficient use of the facilities. Wasting time in the basin would lower their priority for future runs. This system can also be used as leverage to promote desired behavior in the teams. Unsafe behavior, squandering of resources by parking on the starting line, or even repeated crashes into the timing gate that require it to be reset, can all be deemed Ďfoulsí that would have minutes tacked onto the offending teamís accrued time list. This system also ensured fair access to the facilities. Teams who were battling technical issues in their pit areas for three days were virtually guaranteed race time on the fourth day due to their relatively low amount of accrued time.
After the event, the contestant organizer may need to send left items or uncollected prizes to the contestants.
It may be advisable to provide for human needs such as food, drink, shelter, chairs, shade, toilets, sunscreen, dust masks, etcetera. If contestants, contest personnel, or others are subjected to prolonged discomfort, they may quit the contest before it is complete. If the contest involves other unique uncomfortable situations, those should also be addressed. For example, at the HPS200X events, it was recognized that since scuba air is dried before it is compressed into tanks, and since volunteer safety divers would be breathing this dry air all day, it would be necessary to provide them with drinks throughout the event.
Many engineering contests involve some degree of danger both as the contestants are demonstrating their machines and as they build or repair them. Appropriate safety rules should be developed and necessary protection equipment (safety glasses, hearing protection, dust masks, etcetera) should be present. Furthermore, depending on the degree of danger and whether the public emergency response system can quickly enough respond to the types of emergencies the organizer would reasonably expect, it may be necessary to have rescue and medical personnel on site or standing by.
The HPS200X contests not only included dangers typical of many engineering contests such as pit area injuries and crashes in the demonstration areas, but also water related problems. One example might be that if a submarine traveling at depth were to go out of control and surface suddenly, air in the pilotís lungs might expand with decreasing depth faster than the pilot could expel it, rupturing the pulmonary system. In that case, or even in the case of a normal crash with no injuries, a panicking pilot might mistakenly release the scuba breathing tube from his or her mouth and drown. In either case, since the HPS200X events were held miles from public diving or even swimming areas, it was not reasonable to expect that the public emergency response system could rescue participants quickly enough. Therefore, an extensive safety program was developed and implemented.
One aspect of the safety program was ensuring that contestants, contest staff, and others acted in the safest manner possible. HPS200X rules required that personnel could only be in the water if a team of paramedics/emergency medical technicians were on site, a divemaster was actively controlling the tank, and all communications equipment for all race organizers were working. All gasses used on submarines had to be breathable and all submarine chambers blown with air had to have appropriate pressure relief devices. Stopping a submarine by swimming up to it and catching it was prohibited. Pollutants could not slough off of submarines into the water. A minimum scuba air tank pressure was required for entry into the basin, and teams had to exit the basin when any memberís tank pressure fell below another minimum. Extensive rules ensured that releases for hatches and harnesses restraining pilots were easy and quick to operate. Faces of pilots and air pressure gauges had to be clearly visible through ports so that contest safety personnel could determine whether pilots were in danger. Devices protruding from submarines which could hit other divers or entangle in contest equipment had to be clearly marked. All divers had to be properly trained and certified in scuba techniques and properly registered with the organizers. Clearly, a contest with substantial dangers requires appropriate safety rules.
The contest organizers should understand what dangerous situations are likely to occur so when these are observed, the organizers can act to limit dangerous situations and encourage safe behavior. The planners of the HPS200X events sought training in both scuba diving technique and in scuba diving safety and first aid, and secured the advice and participation of many scuba diving experts to enhance event safety. Prior to the event, all anticipated attendees were informed of the hot, dry, dusty conditions and cold water so they could arrive prepared. At the event, submarines were inspected to ensure compliance with all safety rules and to eliminate any other dangerous conditions, and the staff continuously monitored all event areas to maintain safety. Any person was empowered to stop the event for any emerging safety problem; the event would only restart on approval of the divemaster. An ambulance staffed by a minimum of one paramedic and one emergency medical technician was on site whenever any person was in the water. The ambulance company ensured the medics were experienced in scuba diving whenever possible. The local fire department was briefed on the event and inspected the site so their medics could effectively back up the on-site ambulance crew. The local emergency room and the regional medical center with responsibility for scuba diving injuries were briefed. The organizers recruited many volunteer safety divers so that some could be positioned along the speed course to monitor safe operation and conduct rescues, and others could travel with the teams to monitor the safety and anxiety levels of the team members. Many video cameras were placed throughout the basin and a tower was built so personnel outside the tank could remain aware of safety status. A divemaster monitored all inwater activities and had full authority to act in the interest of safety. A hydrophone was available so the divemaster could address all divers. Teams were monitored so that none would remain in the water for more than an hour, and then would rest out of the water for at least an hour before returning. All divers entered and exited the tank at a single point and detailed records were kept so that unauthorized people could not enter the tank and so no one could remain there too long. At the refreshment stand, anyone could obtain free drinks to avoid dehydration resulting from the hot, dry, dusty desert environment of southern California and from the dry scuba air. From the example of HPS200X, it is clear that safety preparations for a contest may need to be quite extensive.
Positive press coverage can provide multiple benefits to a contest. Contestants and staff will be excited to tell the world about their hard work and claim their 15 minutes of fame. The sponsors and the organizer may wish to polish their public image. Especially for organizers of multiple contests press coverage is useful since potential new sponsors will be easier to recruit if they are already informed and excited about the event, and old sponsors will be easier to keep if they know their sponsorship will result in an improved public image. Certain magazines plan their content months in advance and will need notice well before the contest. For daily media, such as newspapers, radio, television, and internet news services, notices a week before, a day before, and each day of the event, as well as the results afterwards are better. Each notice should include a complete but concise description of the event, any results already achieved, and contact information for the press coordinator. Releases should be sent to local papers and TV and radio stations, school media, wire services, national engineering publications, and publications about the subject of the contest (For the HPS200X contests, for example, to scuba diving publications). To improve the chances that names will be spelled or pronounced correctly and the educational goals of the contest will be publicized, etcetera, a press kit should be prepared to hand out to all the reporters and photographers who show up. It should contain information about the contestants, the organizers and the purpose and form of the contest. To allow photographers impressive vantage points, it may be necessary to give them access to areas forbidden to the public. A quiet place to converse with reporters may also be useful. Press personnel should be free to enter all areas of the event if at all possible. If the event has sufficient staff, someone should guide the reporters and photographers around to ensure they get to talk to all important people and see all important events, they understand all aspects of the contest, and they have access to any important areas. Thorough preparation for and proper invitations to the press can result in excellent press coverage, yielding many benefits for the contest.
A simple engineering contest can be held with limited resources devoted to logistics. However as complexity increases this can quickly become a formidable challenge. Logistical preparation must be given its due diligence. Prior to the event, a Ďmaster equipment listí or similar device is recommendable. This will aid in determining what may require advanced reservations, whether added volunteers will be needed to acquire and collect items and if special transportation will be needed to get all the equipment to the event site. Once at the site, setup of the equipment can require significant resources. Event coordinators should remember that the student contestants are a pool of able talent that has a vested interest in a speedy setup. Also to be considered is if contestants will be traveling from distant areas. Arrangements to receive shipped machines and have them at the contest may need to be made. After the event, breakdown of the equipment needs to be carried out. It is recommended to do this before the awards ceremony to get the full cooperation of the contestants. A one-time event requires no storage of acquired equipment. If the contest is to be a recurring event, consideration should be made to store any items that would be prohibitive to remake or reacquire.
Many engineering contests require special facilities and equipment for functional demonstrations and machine repairs. Said facilities can aid in the uniqueness of the event experience and at the same time create hindrances. First, safety hazards, dangerous areas, and perhaps other areas must be made inaccessible to the contestants and spectators. Since spectators add an exceptional energy to a competitive event, their attendance should be encouraged. However it should be considered what affect the event locale has on the spectator experience, especially if it is too large, inaccessible or has obstructions to line of sight. Scoreboards, timing displays, video monitors, and public address systems should be used if the event locale makes it difficult for spectators and team members to view and comprehend the action as it happens. If the site does not have facilities to handle crowds, then restrooms, food, and etcetera may need to be provided. Areas to display awards, press coverage, rules, and etcetera during the contest are needed, as is a stage area for the awards ceremony. Private, quiet areas may be needed for judges to discuss awards, reporters to conduct interviews, and event staff to prepare and store equipment and documentation. If the facility is remote or has limited access, maps, parking permits, or transportation may be required. Large signs may be required outside the facility to advertise the location and additional signs may be needed in the contest area to inform contestants, spectators, and staff of various contest requirements. If the contest involves large competing machine or contest equipment, the facility may need loading docks and forklifts.
If the contest includes oral presentations, a separate facility may be advisable. In addition to many of the above requirements, it should include seating for the contestants, staff, and spectators. It is difficult to estimate the proper number of seats. A well advertised contest will draw a large number of spectators. A rule of thumb is to use a facility with seating for 1Ĺ to 2 times the number of expected participants. A smaller facility risks a standing room only crowd, while an auditorium many times larger than the audience may make the event appear underattended.
Any event has to have good financial planning. Running a contest is no exception. It is also important to over budget because there are always late bills that show up long after the event which were not expected. To cite an example, for our first event, our first estimate was for $6,000. We thought that was a very generous estimate. At the end of the event, we ended up spending $18,000. As the planning of the event progresses, a lot of things change, for the financial planner itís always for the worst. We were of course better prepared the next time.
The table below shows some of the key aspects one should include in the estimate.
Renting the Facilities (may be multiple locations)
Per day cost
Cost of people required to man the facility
Equipment for adjusting the facility for your event
Equipment for the contest itself
Any Transportation costs
Any Accommodation costs
Accommodation Subsidies if any
Food subsidies if any
Publicity in the media
Printing and Mailings
Trophies and awards
Any on site paramedics
The table below shows the expenses for the HPS200X events.
|Meeting & Travel||$600||$500||$1,000|
|Facilities, Offshore Basin costs||$3,200||$3,500||$2,500|
|Emergency Response Team||$1,900||$2,600||$3,600|
|Lunch for 4 days||$2,400||$2,600||$3,600|
|Supply of air bottles to teams||$500||$200||$0|
|Marketing and advertising||$200||$400||$400|
The next aspect to consider is raising the funds for the event. It is important to note that the finance is not only the monies you collect, but also in-kind services. Donated services and materials also help the financial picture. The table below summarizes HPS200X funding sources.
|Balance from previous years||$0||$4,500||$500|
|Sale of Food & Souvenirs||$1,000||$700||$300|
This data gives a good idea of sources of funds for an event. It is by no means exhaustive. It is also important to reward the sponsors for their contributions. Many sponsors like a good trophy and copies of press coverage. They may place these in their lobbies where they may initiate ice breaking discussions with new customers. For the sponsors, these events are also good recruiting grounds for hands on practical engineers. They can attend the events to meet participants or set up booths and distribute their literature. All these gestures help get good long term sponsors.
In addition to the event planners, other staff may be required to run the event. For example, the HPS200X contests had dozens of safety divers, as well as divemasters, crane operators, scuba tank fillers, record keepers, timers, etcetera, who were not involved in the planning of the event. Especially if a large number of volunteers is required to run the event, a significant recruiting effort will be required. Volunteers may be recruited by word of mouth, by visiting organizations whose missions are somehow related to the contest, and by websites. Especially if the contest will be run multiple times, word of mouth recruitment can be enhanced by ensuring the comfort and enjoyment of volunteers, and by providing souvenirs such as t-shirts to provoke conversation between happy past volunteers and potential new volunteers. Multiple visits to other organizations and other follow-up communications may be required to successfully recruit volunteers with no vested interest in the contest. A website can bring in additional volunteers who the organizers may never have thought to recruit. The website should contain good contact and schedule information, a description of the types of volunteers the organizers hope to recruit, and a good description of the contest goals and details so people can volunteer other services the organizers may not have anticipated. Another source of onsite labor is contestants. For the HPS200X events, we often recruited a few people or entire teams for tasks which would take 5 to 10 minutes. This did not interfere with submarine repairs or resting too much, and we had excellent cooperation from the teams.
The value of email and websites to contest organizers cannot be overstressed. Person to person communication by email can transmit detailed information accurately and quickly. Organizers do not have to be available at the same time, as with meetings and telephone calls. Information can be forwarded to interested third parties. Person to multiple person communications are also very useful for meeting notices to the organizing committee, and for periodic updates to contestants, volunteers, and other interested parties. Even if information is available on a website or is unchanged from previous notices, such periodic newsletters are useful since people may forget important dates and rules, and need to be reminded. Newsletters can also include a question and answer section so that all subscribers can benefit from questions asked by individuals. An excellent website will not only provide all information, forms, etcetera that the volunteer staff and contestants will need, eliminating some person to person communications with the organizers, but will also attract interest from parties who might otherwise not know about the contest. It should include schedule and location information as well as the goals and details of the contest. Separate pages for volunteers and contestants should include all registration forms, rules, and other information needed by those parties. The website can provide links to similar events, to contestant and sponsor websites, and to news coverage and results of previous contests. These forms of digital communication are faster, better, and more convenient than mail or telephone and should be used preferentially. Planning the HPS200X events would have required a much larger staff were these not used.
After the event it will be necessary to clean up the contest site, and return all borrowed and rented equipment. Press releases should be sent with the results of the contest. Sponsors and volunteers should be thanked for their participation. For events that are held only once or infrequently, vendors may not know where to send bills, so efforts should be made to track down and pay all debts. For recurring contests, each member of the organizing committee and key event staff should be debriefed. One person can interview everyone and create one report, or each person can write their own. The debrief should include the personís understanding of their job, how it was planned to be accomplished, how it was actually accomplished, and recommendations for how it should be accomplished in future events. This will enable future contest organizers to improve the contest each time it is held.
Contests should be fun for the contestants, the organizers, and everyone else involved.
Although educational engineering contests differ widely in content, the planners will have to consider the same issues in organizing it. Contest concepts, educational goals, schedules, sponsors, communications, rules, organization of contestants and staff, the comfort and safety of attendees, press relations, logistics, and finance should be considered by any contest organizer. For some simple contests, many of these considerations will not require any action from the organizer; still, each should be considered and rejected for lack of need rather than ignored. For complicated, multi-day contests with some degree of danger, all the discussed considerations will require substantial planning and managing effort. The staff of the 3 HPS200X events enjoyed planning and running them and learned much about engineering and management. We hope the issues discussed and the examples presented here will be useful to organizers of and contestants in educational engineering contests. We wish you good luck in planning your event.
The organizers of HPS2000, HPS2002, and HPS2004 wish to thank the contestants, volunteers, sponsors, vendors and staff who made our success possible.