Trebuchet Toss in San Antonio

By Judith Ibarra-Bianchetta, PE, CFM
CH2M HILL South Texas Area Manager who wears multiple hats with the firm, including Project Manger and Operations Lead. She entered the field of engineering because of events similar to EWeek’s Engineer for the Day program and feels passionately about giving back to the community. 

I was part of a local office team that hosted 10 students from a local STEM high school for the day- all very interested in becoming engineers. We took them on a tour of a wastewater treatment plant that recycles and uses sustainable design principles as part of the everyday functioning of the plant.

Afterwards, we brought the students to our office to hear presentations from different engineers in the office which included their “words of wisdom.” The students all asked fascinating questions, including: Do you travel much?  Do you move up quicker in the private or public fields? How much money do you make (which is pretty much a regular question year-after-year).

The students turned these materials into a Trebuchet.

The presenters talked about the importance of teamwork. So with that, we broke the students into groups of four for a Trebuchet Toss competition by which the students had to build a Trebuchet from everyday household items. The contest was judged by who could land a marshmallow in the pie crust taking into account both accuracy and length. The interesting part of the competition was listening to the different teams discuss their strategy. In their high school, their teachers place them as a project manager, schedule manager or a technical lead. So naturally, they formed teams according to who was their friend not considering their possible team strengths – maybe because their teacher wasn’t around to tell them! Anyhow, the team that took the longest to complete the challenge and really wasn’t able to launch the marshmallow at all was the team that consisted of all project managers – all telling each other what to do. The team that was first to complete the challenge and launch the marshmallow accurately had a good mix of abilities. Imagine that!

Listening to them discuss their plan of attack and their conversations always reminds me of the good old days of being in high school and not really knowing what the future holds. Now that I look back at that time it makes participating in these events even more of a priority for me to continue to be involved and influence the young students about continuing in math and science related studies. They really need all the encouragement they can get. Majority of the students that participate in this program are very interested during the day and of course there are a couple that are just happy to be out of school for the day.  But for the most part, the students have difficultly leaving the office and want to continue to interact with us – with some students even some asking for a job. The students asking questions make me think that the time I have spent with them has been influential and beneficial to them. This brings me a lot of energy and fuels me to continue to keep participating in the program as these programs were instrumental for me to become an engineer in first place.


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