By Bill Hudson

FRIDLEY, Minn. (WCCO) — Step into the classroom, where Totino-Grace students are engineering answers to life’s everyday problems.

You witness a curriculum designed to unlock the potential for human ingenuity – where scientific principles transform into impressive creations.

“Engineers are problem-solvers and there’s never going to be a lack of problems to solve,” Assistant Principal Dan Vandermyde said.

The Totino-Grace curriculum is called Engineering Institute. It is designed to expose sophomores, juniors and seniors to three years of disciplined engineering classes. It’s instructing students how to use the physical sciences to develop solutions to everyday problems.

Once students reach their final year, they are ready to tackle what’s known as the Capstone Project.

“We know that we have a lot of talented students, good thinkers and problem solvers. We just want them to be aware of what engineering really is so they can consider it,” Vandermyde said.

According to the first two graduating classes to complete all three years in the engineering institute, about half of all students engaged will go on to pursue some form of engineering degree in college.

Equally as impressive is the number of female students in the program.

According to 2012 statistics from the National Science Foundation, just over 19 percent of all undergraduate engineering students were female. Totino-Grace can boast of an impressive 33 percent female participation.

Another major attraction of the program is how professionals are paired with each student to serve as mentors. Working engineers in the Twin Cities help guide students and answer questions about career tracks and opportunities.

But when it’s time to design their final senior project, students must rely on their own learned skills.

“It’s called the Mel Rolling Container. It’s our names combined,” explains students Isabel Lewis and Megan Mullen.

Their creation uses ultraviolet light powered by a 9-volt battery to purify water for people in underdeveloped nations.

“Right now they’ll be carrying around dirty water and it’s not clean, so then we wanted to make a system that can clean their water and then transport it,” Lewis said.

It’s among 24 impressive projects tackling a wide array of problems and challenges.

Another is called Smart Socket. Its job is to take the pinch and discomfort out of a tight-fitting prosthetic. By using a computer program, the device senses the changes in the person’s shrunken or swollen limb and then adjusts the fit.

“Your prosthetic is not a living thing so it doesn’t move with your body. And they don’t have a lot of solutions right now,” explains creators Katelyn Gasperlin, Lexi Serreyn and Adriana Knox.

To deter mail theft, Saji Fernandes and Patrick Kaiser invented a locking mail box. They named their invention, the Mailox.

“So really the two only times you need your mailbox open is when you want it and when the mailman is putting the mail in it, right?” Fernandes said.

Other projects include a device to warn a driver whenever there is a burned out brake light.

Even more life-saving is a project designed to detect and alert parents whenever they may have left an infant unattended in a car seat. Too many times we’ve read the horrifying news of a child who dies after being forgotten in a hot automobile.

Just a few of the 24 impressive senior projects, which aim to bring solutions to life’s problems. And at the same time, light the fuse of tomorrow’s talented engineers.

On Sunday, March 25, Totino-Grace will hold a public open house to show off the students work. It will be held between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at the school.

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