The puck does not stop here

UNBC Stories
Four people wearing white t-shirts crouch on floor around a small metal structure with a pulley system and weight hanging.
High school participants from Valemount Secondary School and their teacher-coaches make last-minute preparations to a puck-launching device.

To use a sports analogy, they gave it 110 per cent.

Grade 11 and 12 students from across School District 57 were challenged to design a puck-launching device for the University of Northern British Columbia School of Engineering’s inaugural High School Design Competition.

After spending months planning, building and testing their innovative engineering designs, the students gathered at UNBC’s Prince George campus to put their launchers to the ultimate finale: a face-off!

With support from industry partners, School of Engineering faculty and students established a ‘neutral’ arena in the atrium of the Teaching and Learning Building and members of the University community came out to cheer on the participants.

“We wanted to inspire the students to get curious, expand on what they’re learning in their classrooms and empower them to bring their ideas to fruition,” said Mauricio Dziedzic, Professor and Chair of the School of Engineering. “With high demand for engineers and not enough graduates to fill available and future positions, we’re working with local firms to foster interest and connections with future students.”

Event sponsors included: Allnorth, Canfor, DWB Consulting Services Ltd., McElhanney, Onsite Engineering Ltd., R. Radloff & Associates Inc. and Scouten Engineering.

Like all good competitions, participants were forced to adapt and innovate as they encountered device malfunctions.

“I’m very proud of us – how we reacted under pressure and put our minds together to come up with a solution. It was a beautiful thing,” said Emerson Listhaeghe, a Grade 12 student at D.P. Todd Secondary School.

Emerson and teammate Isabelle Houghton had made more than a dozen test shots during warm-up, but had a piece come off and were forced to re-calibrate their device during the timed competition. The pair rebounded to win the puck-launching portion of the design competition.

“It’s pretty astounding how well they did under trying circumstances,” says teacher Steven Horianopoulos, a graduate of UNBC’s Education program. “As educators, we’re always talking about resiliency in the face of things going wrong. To see them exhibit that level of calm under pressure, you just hope those kinds of lessons hold up into the future.”

For Houghton, who’s currently in Grade 11, the whole experience went beyond her expectations. “Creative learning is very important to me – I love having a creative outlet and this gave me something hands-on to do,” she said. “It also tied into my academic learning and helped me think about shifting my learning into the real world and what I can possibly take into a career.”

The overall competition winners, high school students Remi Giroux and Sam Darragh from Valemount Secondary School, were also forced to adapt their device during the puck launch to account for a different floor surface and type of target in the atrium.

“It was a lot more nerve-wracking than I thought it would be – it was very intense - but it was a great experience,” said Darragh, who’s in Grade 11. “It taught us a lot about what engineering is like because you have to change and adapt to the circumstances, and we found that throughout this competition.”

Both students received $1,000 tuition credits from the School of Engineering for their win, while every competitor went home with $500 in tuition credits to offset costs should they choose to pursue engineering at UNBC.

Giroux, who is in Grade 12, will attend UNBC in the 2024 Fall Semester, as Valemount Secondary’s UNBC Scholar recipient. In addition to the sense of accomplishment he felt after the competition, he enjoyed touring campus.

“It’s a beautiful place here and I’m excited to live here next fall,” he said. “It will be my first time living away from home and I’m excited to embark on the next chapter of my life.”