Smith, U-M students blast off

3 … 2 … 1 … blastoff!
Photo by Bob Oliver
University of Michigan aerospace engineering student Christopher Reynolds (left) uses a pump to build air pressure in a water bottle rocket created by O.L. Smith Middle School students. Reynolds and several other U-M students visited Smith to tell the students about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Smith Middle School students were given a unique opportunity to learn more about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields and opportunities within them.

The sixth- and seventh-graders were visited on April 19 by a group of students from the University of Michigan who went to the school to try to inspire them to pursue studies in those fields.

Christopher Reynolds, an Aerospace Engineering major who helped plan the event, said that the main goals of the event were to get the students interested in STEM and thinking about new career paths.

“It’s so important to get them inspired because in the aerospace engineering field and STEM fields in general, the job market is so great and a lot of the people currently in these fields are retiring in the next few years,” Reynolds said. “There’s going to be a great hiring increase and a great salary increase soon. It’s a great opportunity and a great field to be in.”

Reynolds was joined by 14 other U-M students who gave a presentation about STEM fields and then worked with the Smith students to design and create small water bottle rockets, which were fired into the air behind the school.

Reynolds said that the activity was planned in part to change the perception of the fields for the students.

“There’s a perception that work in the STEM fields is very hard and not very fun, so it’s our job to try and change that perception,” Reynolds said.

Smith science teacher Bill Tucker worked with Reynolds to plan the event. He said that the event was something that students had been looking forward to.

“The students were really excited for this,” Tucker said. “We’re looking to make all those connections between science and math in our classrooms. These types of events are like punctuation for the students.”

He also said that showing the students just how many career paths and fields of study were available was very important and that having college students talking to them was very influential.

“We want them to find something that they connect with,” Tucker said. “We want to give them as many different avenues to do that as possible. The personal stories of these college students make an impact on the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders that are hearing it. The goal is to show them what’s possible.”

Eric Zhong was another U-M student helping construct the rockets. He said that working hands-on with the students can have a positive effect on their attitudes toward the STEM fields. He also said that he was inspired to pursue an aerospace engineering degree after his school was visited in a similar manner by engineers.

“The visit to my school definitely inspired me,” Zhong said. “By visiting schools and working with younger kids I feel that I am paying forward that inspiration to the next generation.”

After the groups were finished constructing the rockets they lined up outside the school to test fire them.

Seventh-grader Feysal El-Hashelmite designed and fired a rocket.

“I think this is a good experience for us,” El-Hashelmite said. “It helps us learn about aerodynamics and other fields.”

This was the second meeting between the two schools. In January, 29 Smith students traveled to the U-M campus to talk with faculty and engineering students and build model rockets. They also visited the Natural History Museum.

Tucker and Reynolds both said that they hope that a long-term relationship has been started and that events like these can take place every year.

“We really feel fortunate to have them come to our school,” Tucker said. “It would be wonderful to make this an annual thing. It’s an excellent opportunity for everyone involved.”

(Bob Oliver can be reached at