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St. Ambrose engineering students getting hands-on learning with race cars and robots

Professors said the hands-on learning tests knowledge and creativity while preparing students for a future career in engineering.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Final exams are approaching fast for college students, but on Dec. 8 at St. Ambrose University, engineering students got the chance to compete with small race cars and robots.

As final projects for the semester, Intro to Engineering students competed with CO2 racing cars.

The students built the cars themselves, performing calculations and using CAD (computer-aided design) software before carving the vehicles from balsa wood.

For students like freshman Erik Coleman, it was an engaging project.

"You might have very extravagant designs in your head of this car - but then you have lots of constraints to work with," he said. "For example, you only get like this material, and you have to work with that. It's fun, but it's not just super simple."

Professors see the value in hands-on learning.

"Students want to be activity-based, right?" industrial engineering professor Michael Opar said. "They want to do stuff with their hands, so the more we can get them doing things and learning through actually performing, the better the instruction sticks for them."

For senior students in the Mechatronics class, their challenge involved building robots with autonomous motion using a variety of sensors.

The bots competed in an area, completing different objectives like pushing balls into scoring zones and balancing on platforms to earn points.

Mechanical engineering professor Becky Romatoski said it's practical experience for learning autonomous tech.

"More and more companies are using it on their manufacturing assembly lines and things like that," she said. "We're preparing students for different companies. They're changing the way they do things, and now our students have those skills to help them make those changes."

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