Christina Yang has taken her lumps for sisterhood.
Yang, a fifth-year electrical engineering student at UCLA's
Henry Sameuli School of Engineering and Applied Science, broke her
ankle piloting a six-foot-tall penguin off the Santa Monica pier.
Though she's in a sorority, this wasn't a prank. This
Flying day in German, Flugtag originated
in Austria in 1991. The quirky event features dozens of teams launching
brightly decorated, handmade aircraft over a body of water for prizes
such as pilot's, skydiving, or paragliding lessons or $12,000
in cash equivalents. Flugtag is an ironic title: the aircraft do
more dropping than flying. But no one expected the giant cheese
wedge, the cardboard school bus, or Yang and her team's Sigmand
the penguin to be airborne for very long. Fortunately for them,
points in the event were awarded for creativity and showmanship,
in addition to actual flying distance. We did it as a publicity
project and because it looked like a fun thing to do, Yang
The publicity was for the Nu Chapter of Phi Sigma
Rho, a national social sorority for women in engineering and engineering
technology. Yang and her Flugtag teammatesKendra Titus, Cindy
Beck, Gina Beretta, and Marzena Laskowskaare all members.
Yang, in fact, founded the Nu Chapter after befriending members
of the Triangle social fraternity for men in the sciences and discerning
a need for a similar organization for women. We all work so
hard in engineering, Yang says. I felt a need to bond
with other women in engineering. Yang met with Phi Rho's
national expansion director and, with the help of a friend, began
recruiting in March 2002. The following May, the Nu chapter inducted
its first 11 members.
Mining Engineering professor Paul Worsey is helping
ensure future Fourth of July skies will be bright and booming. In
his Commercial Pyrotechnics Operations course at the University
of Missouri-Rolla (UMR), he schools future pyrotechnicians in all
they need to know about fireworks displays. Choreography, storage,
safety, liabilityeven the chemistry governing the explosionsit's
all covered. The only prerequisite is a chemistry course and a love
The course is an outgrowth of Worsey's interest
in explosives and UMR's mining engineering program. Junior
and senior mining engineering students have made up the majority
of the class. Computer science, civil engineering, and chemistry
majors have taken the course as well. I let a freshman take
it once and he loved it, Worsey recalls. Afterward,
I told him I felt sorry for him because his classes would be all
downhill from there. Some take the class to pursue a career
in pyrotechnics. Toward that end, Worsey makes everyone take the
Pyrotechnic Guild International shooter's certification test.
On completing the course, several students have gotten summer jobs
with the local company that hosts the course, Premier Pyrotechnics.
Company president, Matt Sutcliffe, and manager of the company's
Richland, Missouri, operations, Marty Gillette, teach the course
Over three class meetings in the fall, students set
up and shoot off thousands of dollars worth of fireworks on company
property. We went out and shot a $5,000 display and had a
party afterward, Worsey says of one meeting last fall. The
biggest display is put on during the fourth and final class meeting
at the Christmas in the Sky event, sponsored by Kansas
City, Missouri, radio station KUDL. Last Thanksgiving eve, a crew
comprising Worsey and most of his students launched over 2,000 shells
into the air.
One of the few pyrotechnics courses that can be taken
for college credit, it draws students from around the country. Chris
Karram came from Queens, New York. Always interested in fireworks,
he was looking to get pyrotechnic certification when he discovered
the course on the Internet. He enrolled and had to commute to Missouri
for the class. It was an awesome experience, he says.
An astronomical experience. And a life-changing one:
Karram, a pre-law undergraduate major, was recently accepted into
UMR's mining engineering bachelor's program and is looking
forward to moving to Missouri.
Robert Gardner is Associate Editor of Prism.
He can be reached at email@example.com