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Engineering Students Design, Create Musical Playground for Children’s Learning Center

The new musical playground at HCC's Children's Learning Center.

On a warm summer day, a pack of preschoolers line up at the playground behind Howard Community College’s (HCC) Children’s Learning Center (CLC), their eyes fixed on the newest piece of equipment installed in the space.

When given the green light, the boys and girls make a beeline to the wooden structure covered in various objects that make musical melodies and stretch imaginations. Brooks Wiggs, an engineering student at HCC, watches and smiles.

Wiggs is one of three HCC engineering students who designed and built the musical playground as part of a project for their Introduction to Engineering course this spring. This was the first time she had seen children play with the structure, which took her, Laura Wortman, and Faith Tracey, a solid two weeks of “intense work” to build.

“It’s an incredible feeling, seeing them play on something I helped design and build,” Wiggs said. “I’m so glad I got to see this.”

Last fall, the PNC Foundation awarded a grant of $11,000 to the CLC to help fund a playground upgrade and enhance HCC’s early childhood education program. PNC made the grant as part of the PNC Grow Up Great, it’s early childhood education initiative. Additional support for the project was provided by Harkins Builders, Columbia Association, Horizon Foundation, Design Collective, Rotary Club of Columbia and District Rotary Grant.

Soon after, Mark Edelen, chair of engineering and technology, contacted the CLC’s director Kim Pins, to talk about a possible collaboration.

“I reached out to the CLC to ask if we could do a project for them, as I knew they had some playground equipment ideas,” he said. “I wanted a project that was something students could actually build and deliver for use at the CLC.”

Pins wanted to expand the existing interactive musical playground equipment, so she tasked a group of Edelen’s Intro to Engineering students with the job.

“I mentored the students through the project in my section of the course, but they interacted closely with Kim to understand the project goals, requirements, and constraints,” he said.

The students asked about typical class sizes, target age group, and safety concerns (no sharp edges). Pins requested a “very durable” and “natural” structure with a diversity of instruments that multiple children could play with at a time.

They also met with the young children at the CLC to understand their preferences.

After the engineering lab staff put some finishing touches to the structure, it was installed at the CLC in May.

“The kids love it,” Edelen said. “They were anxiously awaiting the installation, even while we were there digging the footer holes!”

Pins said the children can’t get enough of the musical playground. Not only are they having fun, but they’re learning too.

“It’s an opportunity for the kids to express their emotions,” Pins said. “It’s an opportunity to articulate their emotions. It’s an opportunity for children who learn kinesthetically to participate and learn.”

Edelen says the project is a great example of what he calls “client-focused engineering projects,” in which HCC students design, build, and deliver real products to real clients.

“We believe these projects provide a rich learning experience in which students are learning engineering in an authentic real-world context,” he said. “There are some lessons about the design process and project management that simply cannot be learned any other way.”

The playground was later unveiled at welcomed by community partners and donors.

This story was recently featured in AACC 21st Century Center, a publication of the American Association of Community Colleges.

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Topics: Campus Life
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