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CSI project puts collaboration into a cube

As UCS Center for Science and Industry (CSI) seniors begin their final high school semester, they go through a CSI right of passage by working on the Cube Goldberg project. 

“This project is one of the things that is shown to kids interested in CSI and then shown again to the freshmen, so we were able to see it before,” Utica High School/CSI multimedia senior Anya Rosenthal said. “It’s really crazy that now we’re doing it as seniors.”

This co-curricular project is based on the concept of a Rube Goldberg machine meant to perform a simple task in a complex way. 

“The objective is to design a mini Rube Goldberg within a two foot cube that lasts between 15-20 seconds which then triggers the next cube, and so on,” said CSI English teacher, Greg Feldkamp.

“It’s quite an intense project that takes place over two and a half weeks,” said Feldkamp. “We had 15 cubes in total and the theme was four years at CSI and then each cube had a theme within that theme going from entering CSI through to graduation.”

Groups of 5-6 seniors made up of 3-4 mechatronic team members and 2 multimedia team members were put to the challenge to not only create within their cube, but to also collaborate their cube neighbors into their multimedia and mechanical work.

“Throughout all our past co-curricular projects you were always focused on your group working on your project,” Rosenthal said. “On this one we had to communicate with the groups before us and after us and also collaborate as a class on the theme.”

For Henry Ford II/CSI engineering senior Kendrick Towianski, the most difficult part of the project was getting things done on time.

“It’s the most work we’ve had to put into a project to get stuff done,” Towianski said. “This is our last one so it’s kind of sad in a way, but it’s fun.”

Fueled by the idea of starting with ‘why,’ this project’s ‘why’ was the collaboration it involved.

“It’s about interpersonal skills and communicating with each other,” Feldkamp said. “In order to be effective in this project they had to be skilled at planning, engineering and multimedia, but to really be successful they have to be skilled in the collaboration portion of this project.”

After a series of three trial runs and two final runs, on the final run 72% of the cubes worked successfully without students manually triggering the cube and the cube-to-cube connections worked 71% of the time, an improvement of 42% and 57% from the first trial run.