Tau Beta PiBy Aaron D. Mihalik
Associate Features Editor
MIT’s chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, is best known for their annual design competition and spring career fair. This year, however, TBP is getting themselves more involved in both the MIT and neighboring community. “We have a new focus this year -- we want to bring TBP to the surface,” said Ahmed M. Elmouelhi ’01, president of TBP. “In past years it’s been a resume padding type of thing. You put TBP on your resume and that’s the end of that.”
This year TBP’s design competition is open to a larger number of MIT teams and a handful of high school teams. TBP will be offering a scholarship to a sophomore student who has demonstrated community involvement and academic excellence. Also, TBP eligible members will have to undertake a more rigorous and organized community service requirement.
Significant changes in design competition
The annual design competition, open to freshmen and sophomore students, has traditionally been open to a limited number of MIT teams. For instance, only 12 teams were invited to participate last year because of time restraints. This year, the competition has been moved to a Saturday to make room for 20 MIT teams and 10 high school teams.
“Usually it’s been on a weeknight and we have been limited to the number of teams that we can have,” said Amy C. Lee ’00, former president of TBP. “Because so many people were interested, we felt we should expand it.”
“Traditionally the contest has only involved the MIT community,” said Michael B. Goertz ’00, chapter service chair for TBP. By opening the competition to high school students we hope “to bring MIT closer to the community.”
“We thought it would be interesting ... to have a high school design contest at the same time,” said Lee. “For high school students it is interesting to go to the college and see what college students do.”
There are still several logistical aspects to be finalized. “We haven’t decided how we are going to split the MIT and the high school teams, and if we are going to give the same problem,” said Goertz. “Some the ideas that we are tossing around for the this year’s problem is fairly MIT specific. We want to draw on peoples’ experiences at MIT.”
Students are allowed two hours to develop a solution and put together a presentation. Since the solutions are not “extremely technical, students don’t have to work out difficult engineering problems,” said Goertz. “We want them to do creative reasoning, which we feel they can do in two hours and we don’t want it to consume much time.”
“The judging of the design is highly creativity and presentation based,” said Goertz. “It’s not so much the technical aspects of their solution, as much as the creativity of their solution and how well they can convey that to the judges.”
The judging panels consist of MIT faulty and graduate students. “We are looking at possibly having some high school science teachers,” said Goertz. “We are really looking to bring the community into it this year, so we are experimenting with some different ideas.” Also, the professors are not necessarily engineering professors. Students are expected to present to “non-technical members of the community.”
This year’s problem will be similar to years’ past. The problem might be “a bit more technical this year, but just as creative,” said Goertz. “We want the students to have a really good time with it and not feel like they are doing another problem set on the weekend.”
This year, the competition will take place on Saturday April 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Currently, registration is underway for groups of three to four freshmen or sophomore students. Teams can register at <http://web.mit.edu/tbp/www/designcontest/>.
The winning team will be invited to the district design competition at Boston University on April 8. At the district competition, the problems “are pretty involved, but not overly difficult,” said Goertz. Also, “students have more time to solve the problem.”
TBP provides other community services
TBP has an ongoing collaboration with the Museum of Science. “We do some community service events with the Museum of Science as well as donate the money to benefit the MIT community,” said Lee. TBP makes an annual contribution of $5,000 to the museum. In return, every member of the MIT community is entitled to free admission to the museum.
TBP is providing a scholarship program that is new this year. The scholarship will be awarded to sophomore “who is doing well academically and has also demonstrated a lot of caring for the community,” said Elmouelhi.
“We’re looking for someone who has gone above and beyond in terms of community service,” said Elmouelhi. “It can be something in Cambridge ... or someone who has done a cool Alternative Spring Break project.” The service can be “any type of activity that has had a positive impact on society.”
The judging will be based on an essay and a letter of recommendation. Also, the candidate must have a GPA higher than 4.5 to be considered.
Also, TBP sponsors an annual career fair. It’s “probably the biggest career fair of the spring,” said Lee. This year, it was held on the first Friday of the spring semester.
“We are still trying to figure out if we want to move it to the fall or not,” said Elmouelhi. “But we’ll definitely have one next year.
TBP requires an academic eligibility that is “really straightforward,” said Lee. “But every chapter is given the freedom to decide on more requirements. The idea is that although a lot of people are academically eligible, we want someone who is willing to provide service to the community.”
The eligible students “have to fulfill a certain number of [community service] hours to become members,” said Elmouelhi. “In past years, eligible students had to complete ten hours of community service.” This year, however, eligible students have to participate in coordinated community service efforts set up by TBP. Events include projects with the Habitat for Humanity, the Cambridge Science Expo and the March of Dimes Walk for Hunger.
“We’ve changed the [community service] eligibility requirements so that the eligible students get to know each other and the members,” said Elmouelhi. “There’s a lot more interaction that way and we’re trying to make it more meaningful to everyone.”