University of Minnesota
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Three engineering students with their train-themed cardboard sled.

Slide show

Freshmen get a taste of the engineering life by team-designing sleds—from cardboard.

January 22, 2014

Most students get in trouble when they let their homework slide.

But not the freshmen who took over the ice in Mariucci Arena last December.

They were gung-ho to try out the sleds they had built, using only cardboard, plastic, tape, and glue. It was all part of the College of Science and Engineering’s First-Year Experience. And what better introduction to the life of an engineer than competing in teams to build the best sled, with limited materials and a tight deadline?

The teams competed for awards in innovation (design) and in distance and accuracy, the latter category meaning the sled had to travel as far as possible and keep to a straight line. When the 28 finalist teams took the ice on December 6, all sorts of creativity were on display: Everything from a train, tank, race car, and chariot to an energy drink, a pirate ship (that one was just for show) and, of course, a golden gopher turned up in a cardboard incarnation.

In general, the simpler designs seemed to do better.

“It was a surprise,” says Ravyn Braun, whose “penguin slider” sled won in the distance category. “I think what helped us win was our design with three V-shaped plastic blades.”

The winners in the innovation category constructed a sled with a tubular design mimicking an energy drink.

“The challenge was storing it in a dorm room,” says team member Kelli Renner. “The thrill was winning in our class.”

Renner’s teammate Andler Sekel says he’s worked on large-group projects before, such as when he edited his high school yearbook, but this was the easiest.

“It was mainly because we all knew what we had to do and we all wanted to accomplish it,” he says.

We think they all had a good time, too, but judge for yourself:

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