Students venture to Monster Jam for inspiration

Students from Tacoma’s SOTA, SAMI and iDEA programs toured Monster Jam last Friday to gain insight and inspiration for their month-long “Das Auto” project to design and market their own vehicle. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

It doesn’t get more hands on when it comes to vehicle design and function than touring an extreme example of automotive technology and performance. Such was the adventure of about 40 students enrolled in Tacoma School District’s School of the Arts (SOTA), Science and Math Institute (SAMI) and iDEA, the district’s design and engineering program, when they visited Monster Jam last week to chat with driver Camden Murphy and his pit crew chief Braz Heggie.

Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

The students are midway through their month-long immersion course that groups students from each of the schools to work on all aspects of a particular subject, from concept and design to marketing to science and technological development. This year, teachers Michael Hagmann and Cornelius Brudi partnered to create “Das Auto” that had the students tackle all sides of the automotive industry. Student groups are ultimately designing, sketching, modeling, marketing and presenting their own car designs later this month.

Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

Student Luke Lettner’s group, for example, is designing a car based on a Lamborghini design with a Lexus LFA hood. Lettner is tasked with drawing the interior based on concepts developed by the rest of the team, a challenge that requires specific descriptions of ideas and aesthetics.

Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

“It is fun, but it is also frustrating about what they want,” he said.

Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

Those sorts of struggles in group dynamics is at the root of the project that simulates real-world applications of what skills students are learning in their classrooms, including those “soft skills” or working as a team, rather than have students just focusing on their own interest from start to finish.

Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

“In the real world, you rarely get to work by yourself,” Brudi said.

Leading up to that cross-disciplinary project, the students visited Clover Park Technical College and America’s Car Museum. By happenstance, Monster Jam was in the works at the Tacoma Dome. A quick email exchange between the teachers and event organizers ensued.

“Then poof, we are here,” Hagmann said.

Students got a chance to see Murphy’s Monster truck Pirate’s Curse as well as talk to the former NASCAR driver turned Monster Jam Rookie of the Year about the challenges of driving a 12,000-pound beast with a 1,500-horsepower motor, the technology and safety features of the industry as well as the logistics of shuttling these high-performance trucks around the country. They then received tickets to the Monster Jam Triple Threat series to see the trucks in action.

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