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Engineering students launch community festivities

Jubilant youngsters race to examine the remains of a pumpkin catapulted during the Mizzou Engineering Ambassadors’ Oct. 4 pumpkin fling. Photo by Vicki Hodder

Mizzou Engineering Ambassadors launched Halloween festivities this year with a bang. Or more precisely, with a splat.

Providing a seasonal take on a traditional college competition, the engineering ambassador group on Oct. 4 invited onlookers to send pumpkins flying with homemade catapults at the Columbia Farmers’ Market near the intersection of Ash Street and Clinkscales Road. The event recalled Mizzou Engineering’s annual egg catapult contest, in which competitors aim eggs at frying pans several dozen feet away.

The pumpkins-for-eggs swap proved popular with youngsters who took a turn at the farmers’ market event.

“I wish I could fly that high,” said 5-year-old Columbia resident Gracie Gelder, watching a pumpkin soar across the field in front of the market.

Farmers’ market pumpkin vendors asked the College of Engineering to hold a “pumpkin fling” to highlight the month’s newest crop, said Caroline Todd, the market’s manager. Given Mizzou Engineering’s annual catapult competition, the partnership seemed natural, Todd said.

For their part, Mizzou’s engineering ambassadors consider the pumpkin fling a fun way to serve and inform the community.

Engineering ambassadors perform a service project each year, and running the event seemed a fun way to contribute to the community, said Engineering Ambassador President Kate Faust, a biological engineering senior. Engineering students built the event’s two catapults from wood, a pulley and plastic pipes as well as customized materials such as a cardboard-plated shovel, she said.

Faust said the event also demonstrated for youngsters the sorts of things engineers can do with their skills.

“Events like these show kids the variety of fun and exciting things engineers can do,” said Laura Forbes, the engineering college’s recruiting coordinator and faculty advisor for the ambassadors group. “If we can intrigue a few kids and leave a lasting impression that leads them into becoming engineers when they’re older, we’ll have done our job.”

Indeed, several of the onlookers discussed among themselves both the engineering principles involved in pumpkin flights and the engineering field as a whole. Younger participants enthusiastically ran to examine the pieces of pumpkins—and some watermelons—that remained after they hit the ground.

Midway resident Sara Zara, who watched the event with her daughter Eliza, 3, and her son Jay, 1, said her children learned from the event even as they enjoyed themselves.

“I think they both loved the fact that (the pumpkin) flew—and that it exploded at the end,” Zara said.