130215Nancy Leonard

Archived Story

Justus Gage exposing engineering

Published 7:52pm Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nancy Leonard combines paying it forward with old-fashioned payback introducing Justus Gage Elementary School to engineering.

Margie Brosnan’s and Bryan Henry’s fifth graders were working with her in the gymnasium Wednesday afternoon in teams of three.

Leonard, mother of new Miss Dowagiac first runner-up Gabrielle Leonard, got into engineering by accident — not encouragement.

“I was a senior in high school (in Ohio) and I didn’t have anything else to take academically. I wasn’t going to sit in study hall, so I took a drafting class,” Leonard said. “But I can’t draw by hand to save my butt. With a ruler and templates, though, I was really good at it. Twenty-five years later, here I am.”

Before that epiphany, Leonard thought she wanted to become a lawyer.

“As a young person, I was not very good in math,” she said. “But I kept getting passed along. In 10th grade, my geometry teacher told me to never do anything in math because I sucked. After I got my first bachelor’s degree, that teacher worked at Kroger’s in the summer. I walked up to him and said, ‘I want you to know that after all this time and all of the troubles I had in your class,’ I found a math teacher who could teach me and I’m designing brakes now.”

Automotive engineering has dominated her career, but after 15 years with Bosch, she got laid off effective Jan. 15.

“They laid off over a thousand,” she said. “I made it through a lot of layoffs” before the ax fell.

On Tuesday, Ausco Products in Benton Harbor mailed her an offer, “so I haven’t been laid off long.”

ASME, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, wants to interest youngsters in pursuing engineering careers.

“This is the middle project. There is a lower-level project and a higher-level project,” she said. “This is our second week,” Mondays and Wednesdays, through the end of February.

Ironically, the project is sponsored by Bosch, which covered the cost of AWIM (A World in Motion) kits.

By building balloon-powered cars, a test track anchored by textbooks, loading it with pennies and making measurements to adjust wobbly performances, “They’re going to learn about acceleration, pressure and force,” Leonard said.

Students, accustomed to being spoon-fed information, struggle to think outside the box.

“Part of being an engineer is to think out of the box,” she said, reminding teams that there isn’t a right answer for where the “exhaust pipe” which blows up the balloon goes in their design. “It just has to work.”



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