With one fist on her hip and the other fist thrust into the air, 10-year-old Christine Zayas exclaimed that she was going to create the world’s first pair of rocket boots when she gets older.
“I want to be an engineer when I grow up,” Zayas said matter-of-factly.
The fourth grader from Salinas Elementary competed with her team in the Manufacturing Day Design Challenge for National Manufacturing Day on Oct. 1. Five teams from different elementaries in the area participated in the challenge. The schools were Salinas and Midkiff elementaries from Mission CISD, Shimotsu and Bentsen elementaries from Sharyland ISD and an elementary from IDEA public schools.
The teams had to create a bridge and boat structure from limited supplies such as paper and clear tape. Whichever structures could withstand the most weight would win.
Each of the students also had the option of participating in an individual competition where they had to develop a toy for a child their age and a business plan for its cost. A student from IDEA took home first place for the individual competition and Salinas Elementary took first in the group competition.
The students advanced from a summer program called Enginuity, an initiative that promotes careers in the engineering, design and manufacturing in the Rio Grande Valley. The program is the brainchild of Mission Economic Development Corporation, Royal Technologies and Sylvan Learning Center.
“What we wanted to do was open up our doors to the community, mainly to the youth, to show them what is manufacturing,” said Trung Nguyen, the Royal Technologies plant manager. “We wanted to show the community that it is a safe environment, it’s good pay. There’s opportunities for the community.”
Nguyen said he foresees a growing engineering and manufacturing job market in the Rio Grande Valley because of maquiladoras or manufacturing facilities located in Reynosa.
“Where we come in as manufacturers is to set up a high-tech manufacturing facility,” the plant manager said. “So those manufacturers are going to be dependant on us smaller manufacturers on this side of the border.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of engineers as a whole is projected to grow 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, but that is still slower than the average 11 percent for all occupations.
“We wanted to work with Sylvan Learning and set up a program to introduce engineering to grade school kids,” Nguyen said. “We wanted to attack it at a very young age, plant the seed and, hopefully, one day one of those kids will come and work in our facility.”
The students taped and retaped their structures and measured its strength at their respective tables as they waited for their group to be called. It was exciting for Ngyen to see the students participate in the competition, he said. It brought back memories of him building as a child.
Christine Zayas’ mom, Jeannette, said her daughter has always enjoyed working with her hands. Christine looked on with wide eyes each time more weight was added to their structure and saw that it didn’t waiver. With an excess of 36 pounds for both structures, Salinas Elementary took home first place.
“I love building,” Christine said. “I love how you get to express yourself in the work you do. When you express how you do things, you just let yourself go and you feel like you’re free.”