With a mixture of engineering know-how and cultural pride, a group of five Hispanic engineering students will represent California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and take to the skies over Long Beach’s Rainbow Harbor as part of the nationwide Red Bull Flugtag competition on Saturday, Sept. 21.
As the nation faces a shortage of technical talent and seeks to gain more graduates in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, the Red Bull Flutag competition is one of many creative student endeavors supported by the College of Engineering designed to encourage underrepresented students to persist in college and obtain a degree in STEM subjects.
The Red Bull Flugtag is an event owned and operated by the popular energy drink maker that features competitors’ attempt to soar in homemade, human-powered flying machines.
CSULB’s student-made air structure will be launched by a team of members from the university’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Together, they will push off, from a 30-foot launching pad, their aluminum-tubing-and-foam four-wheeled creation dubbed “the Phoenix,” which comes equipped with a coffin for the pilot to ride along.
“The Phoenix design is used to symbolize the idea that the Phoenix rises from the ashes after death,” explained Jesus Enriquez, the project manager for the group. “We also will incorporate a skit that uses characters dressed in attire in accordance with the concept of Dia de los Muertos. We hope our project entertains and educates people simultaneously about Hispanic culture.”
Aside from Enriquez, CSULB team members include pilot Marycruz Zelaya, and team members Ruben Cabral, Josh Beardsley and Ivan Lopez. The theme of their entry is “Viaje de los Muertos” or “Flight of the Dead” in honor of the longtime Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead.
Team members note that the key to the Phoenix’s success is a link between the Hispanic culture and engineering.
“In the name of our organization, the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, the most important words are ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Engineers,’” Enriquez said. “This event was a way for us to look into Hispanic culture. Plus, engineers are problem-solvers. We like to draw things then build them. This is a good experience for us.”
Hispanic students comprise 33 percent of CSULB’s total undergraduate engineering student population. They are the largest ethnic/racial group in the College of Engineering.
“This shift in demographic landscape anticipates that Hispanics will most likely be a driving force in California’s economic and political future,” said Lily Gossage of the College of Engineering’s Recruitment and Retention Center.
From these students’ perspective, the daylong flugtag represents more than a fun day at the seashore. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about engineering, represent their culture and serve as positive role models for others in their communities. They are the future in many respects.
“For me, participating in this project helped me to better understand time management and how to make sure that all the tasks are done in a timely fashion. I also learned to take advantage of networking opportunities,” Enriquez noted. “At the same time, we feel we are representing the Hispanic community. So, this is a big thing for us.”
The team has already found success in part of the competition as the group announced it had won the Flugfilm Task of the contest. Their flugtag film, which was directed by Lopez, was selected for having the most creativity, humor and relevance to its flugtag entry. The winning film can be found on YouTube.
The CSULB team also has its own page on the National Red Bull Flugtag webpages.