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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Shuantxhis Kilgore puts the top on a straw tower at a University of Utah College of Engineering event designed to introduce young students to the field of engineering and teach them practical engineering concepts, Monday, March 26, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — Each day this week, hundreds of fifth- and sixth-grade students will be introduced to the field of engineering at the University of Utah.

During the 15th annual Elementary Engineering Week, students will learn practical engineering concepts and compete in hands-on activities by building straw towers, marshmallow catapults and clay fish. Some 2,000 students are expected to participate from 28 schools around the Salt Lake Valley. More than 400 students from Rolling Meadows, Burton, Tolman and Twin Peaks participated on Monday.

While the weeklong event is educational, it also introduces students to engineering as a possible career, said Laura Gundry, public relations specialist for the College of Engineering. She said elementary students usually have a good idea of what it is to be a lawyer, doctor or policeman but don't understand that engineers do more than drive trains. 

"A lot of students have very little exposure to what engineering is," Gundry said. "Engineering touches every aspect of our lives."

The activities are designed to teach a number of basic engineering concepts, from the stability and function of the straw towers to the way the shape of a fish changes the speed it travels through water. Students also bring personally-designed catapults to the event and compete at launching marshmallows into an aluminum pie tin 12 feet away.

Benjamin Wood