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Carroll County Career and Technology Center students showcase engineering projects

The world felt blurry. Ryan Merle began seeing double as the over 100-degree heat index began to affect his body after playing three baseball games in a single day.

As a middle-schooler, Merle had felt the adverse effects of heat exhaustion. And as a high school senior, he -- along with two other students -- crafted a device to ward off dehydration. Placed near the kidneys, their creation functions like a hydration backpack, allowing the user to take sips of water from the pack made from sweat-absorbing material.

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On Thursday morning, the team explained their project to reviewers and attendees at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center. Solutions to real-world problems filled the room as a dozen teams of high school senior engineering design and development students showcased their work.

It's the capstone of Project Lead The Way, a two-year program based on a national curriculum taught at the Tech Center. Comprising five engineering courses, the students attend the center for three-quarters of the school day during one semester of their junior and senior years. Their learning tools consist of equipment and software found in the real world and in college engineering courses, according to Cliff Richardson, a Project Lead The Way teacher.

"It puts them ahead [in college] and gives them the opportunity to focus on other coursework that keeps them ahead," Richardson said.

During their senior engineering development and design course, students form teams. They pick a problem, and research it to see why it could use solving. They craft possible solutions, and then pick one or a combination of several. Then, they design their product on a $50 budget.

On Thursday, their final exam grade was determined by local engineers who asked the students questions, reviewed their work and offered feedback.

"[The] trade show format is similar to what they could experience one day working in the engineering field," Richardson said.

And that's finding problems, crafting solutions and then pitching designs.

Nick Roche, Jordan Marley and Alex North revamped crutches. They added foam to the part that goes underneath the armpits. They created an ergonomic hand grip. And they made the crutch more shock absorbent.

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"It's much more comfortable," Roche said. "It's the Cadillac of crutches."

Some solved other problems they deemed frustrating.

Although Ben Kilduff had a waterproof case, the touchscreen on his phone didn't work if it was wet. So, he along with teammates Alex Bredenburg and Josiah Boyle used a conductive, transparent material to craft a screen protector that a user can touch and use outside on a rainy day.

Some students went a more medical route. Jason Steinberg, Nick Saveleski and Brian Kane created an inhaler dosage counter, which counts the doses a person has used up. That way, the inhaler's owner knows how much medicine is left and has a better idea of when it's time for a refill. And it's resettable, so a user would only have to purchase it once.

The team of three people said they plan to study engineering next year at Carroll Community College.

Deciding to major in the field is the norm for students who have completed the Project Lead The Way program, said program teacher Jim Gilford.

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He implemented the Tech Center program in spring 2005. Beforehand, the school only had a one-semester engineering course.

"We kept saying, 'This is great, but we need something that goes beyond, more in depth,'" Gilford said.

So he became certified as a Project Lead The Way teacher and has seen the program grow from 26 students to the about 210 enrolled for next school year.

He's watched as students come back saying they were prepared for their rigorous college engineering course load. And he's seen students secure jobs in the field after receiving their first taste of engineering classes through the Tech Center.

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