Monday, August 2, 2010

Tempus

Sultana Ali suggested I sketch a meeting of Tempus at the SAIC building which is located on the east side of town on Ingenuity Drive. The building is a sleek all glass monolithic cube. The glass doors were locked, so I placed a call to Sultana and she let me in. The Tempus club was formed by Sultana in 2000 at Edgewater High out of its Engineering, Science and Technology program. The 12 students in the club will be participating in the finals of the International Space Settlement Design Competition (ISSDC) this year which will taking place at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. Tempus is one of 12 teams from around the worlds who were selected for the finals. This International Competition is supported by NASA. The assembled group high school students and mentors are going to have to work as a team as they design and pitch innovative ideas for a space station design. From photos I have seen it looks like the design process involves several sleepless nights as the teams rush their projects toward completion in just 43 hours. The students will have to face stress and find ways to remain positive. When the team gets to Texas they will be issued a request for proposal and the teams must address all the points in the proposal as well as fulfill specific requests from competition organizers. The culmination of the process is a presentation of their work in front of aerospace engineers and designers who act as judges.
Sultana began the meeting by stressing the importance of confident and inspired public speaking. She began addressing the group while behind the podium but then she stepped out and got up close to the assembled group. She used this as a way to point out how important it is to have close contact with our audience and to always project. The students had been asked to prepare a 5 minute presentation with a slide to help build their public speaking abilities. In turn each member of the team got up and made a presentation. She stressed the importance of facing the audience and avoiding placing hands in pockets or fiddling with notes.
What followed was for me a highly educational view of how different people presented the material. Some students who were training for the competition for the first time were shy and very quiet, reading the notes and never looking up at the assembles group. The mentors would offer notes on how the presentations could be improved and the supportive atmosphere guaranteed that everyone would improve if they put in the effort. Roger gave a presentation in which he had long pauses every time he had to gather his thoughts. I know that if I was presenting I would panic in such a moment, but Roger just muscled his way through the material. Sultana said he had improved his presentation 200% from the week before and he now could be relied on in any situation if a presentation had to be done. Kevin Rucks would often ask a presenter to just explain what was their favorite aspect of the presentation. When the student answered, he pointed out that they were no longer giving a rehearsed speech, but talking in a relaxed way, as if to a friend and the excitement and sincerity would carry them through.
When everyone had a turn to present, the Mentors better known as Ninjas told everyone to assemble for a team building exercise in the parking lot. When the team got out to the parking lot they were face with the task of moving a small garbage can which had dry ice smoke billowing out of it. The garbage can was surrounded by a yellow rope. Team members could not go inside the roped off area or they would be vaporized. They had to use the assembled junk to move the can 20 feet and pour the liquid into a container. Failure was not an option. The teams first effort, which was largely devised by Hailey Rohrer, used rope tied to a small rubber tire. When the ropes were pulled taught the tire would clamp in on the garbage can. The problem was that only 3 team members were at the ropes and the liquid spilled because the can was off balance. Another hour went by before a another viable solution was offered. Tempers started to flair as some team members started throwing some items away in anger. The answer waited to be found in the pile of junk. Finally mentors started offering clues and one by one removing items from the mix.
The final solution was identical to the efforts of the first try but used different materials. A bungee chord was used instead of a tire to wrap around the garbage can and many more ropes were tied to it to offer more stabilization. It was a glorious moment when all the team members helped move the can and pour its contents into the destination pan.

"When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality."
-Joe Paterno


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