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The centennial anniversary of Garver, a North Little Rock-based engineering company, instigated multiple chain reactions Monday at the Arkansas Capitol.

What started as Neal Garver's one-man shop in 1919 turned the tables on big birthdays earlier this year by being the source of the gifting -- distributing STEM kits and $300 to each of 100 schools in what is now the company's 11-state area of operation.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

On Monday, pupils from eight of those recipient middle schools -- cheered on with initial remarks from Gov. Asa Hutchinson -- used those kits and a few new surprise elements to create workable chain-reaction contraptions in the Capitol rotunda.

Each of the four-person teams and their Garver-employee coaches had 30 minutes to create a track out of a mish-mash of domino-sized and slightly larger planks, plastic clips, traffic cones, painters tape, a small flag, a pulley, a dust pan, a plastic lemon and a jack-in-the-box and even a plunger.

The results would warm the heart of the late Rube Goldberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist known for his drawing of complicated chain-reaction gadgets to perform simple tasks.

When the construction time expired, a ball or another object was placed at the top of each school's track and allowed to wind its way down the contraption, knocking down the planks and, if the team was lucky, falling into the basket or causing the flag to wave.

Some of the contraptions worked better than others. Sometimes the ball needed a finger push mid-track or in other cases it veered off course.

"This was a really good team effort," Jake Hale, an eighth-grade member of the North Little Rock Middle School group, said about the project. "We enjoyed it all the way through. It was stressful in some parts -- when the dominoes fell over. We cut things. I cut myself. I mean we literally put our blood, sweat and tears into this whole thing."

Jordan Culver, 34, a Garver aviation engineer who coached the Joe T. Robinson Middle School team, said hands-on STEM-related projects weren't part of his high school curriculum in Arkansas and in Illinois. Enhanced mathematics was available, but not robotics, he said.

Culver's advice to current students who might have an interest in the STEM fields?

"If at first it doesn't work out, keep on trying," he said. "In engineering, you aren't going to solve the problem in the first go around -- it doesn't matter how bright or sharp you are. Engineering is always an iterative process."

In the end, judges selected Beebe Middle School as the winner. Student team members Dylan Gray, Katie Davis, Luke Lewis, and BJ Dalrymple won the trophy and bragging rights.

Participating schools in addition to Beebe Middle, North Little Rock Middle and Robinson Middle were Russellville Middle; Henderson and Dunbar middle schools in the Little Rock School District; Bryant Middle School; and Cabot Middle School North.

All 100 schools that received STEM kits are contestants in the Garver Chain Reaction Challenge. The schools' videoed contraptions will be judged by Garver staff for innovation, running duration and presentation. The top five submissions will be announced in mid-May and will receive an additional $1,000 for STEM education.

Like Culver, Garver's Chief Executive Officer Dan Williams on Monday had advice for students.

"If in 10 years you have an engineering degree," he said, "come see us."

Metro on 04/09/2019

Print Headline: Teams have a ball, try to stay on track at reaction contest


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