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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 was “Flugtag.”

“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 says.

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 teammates—Kendra Titus, Cindy Beck, Gina Beretta, and Marzena Laskowska—are 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, liability—even the chemistry governing the explosions—it's all covered. The only prerequisite is a chemistry course and a love of fireworks.

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 with Worsey.

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.
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