Rube Goldberg Machine inspires UAH Engineering Technology Senior to help teachers during pandemic

  • Share:
October 26, 2020
(HUNTSVILLE, Ala.) Engineering design process, problem-solving, critical thinking, and the COVID-19 pandemic spark innovative ideas in The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) Engineering Technology senior.

When the pandemic forced new ways of learning for students of all ages, Bachelor of Professional Studies, Engineering Technology concentration student Jarrett Powell began the thought process behind how his capstone project could help local students and teachers in a virtual format.

“This idea came out of the necessity of possibly doing a lab at home for students or for a teacher to do and share it with their class over Zoom”, stated Powell.

Powell’s idea is a Rube Goldberg Machine (RGM). A RGM is a mechanical machine designed to do a simple task in an over complicated way. With Powell’s research, coursework, and inspiration from Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE), the machine’s outcome will be to turn a page in a book. “My idea was to make a modular and mobile experiment that showed Newton’s Three Laws of Motion,” he explains.

The capstone project will expose students to the engineering design process which will lead them to developing new problem-solving techniques. Upon completion of this project, Powell will provide a lab manual, instructions for set up of the machine and short videos. The videos will show how the machine should function and the end outcome.

Originally starting as an aerospace engineering major, Powell realized he needed smaller class sizes and a more application driven approach to learning.  When he sought out to change his major, he was informed by his father that UAH had just announced the Engineering Technology concentration in the College of Professional Studies.  “I read about the program, did some thinking, and pulled the trigger on it,” says the South Carolina native.  “I was a little nervous at first but ultimately I realized this was the right move for me.  Plus, the advisors and faculty are great!”

The Engineering Technology concentration provides a new path for individuals who may have started an engineering-related associate or bachelor program, but for various reasons did not complete.  The interdisciplinary approach to the concentration allows students to emphasize the application of engineering techniques, similar to what Powell is doing with his RGM. The faculty’s experience combined with the course work will prepare students to become professional engineering technologists.

“I feel like the instructors know what they are teaching and have the skill to teach it to where someone with no prior knowledge can understand it,” states Powell. “I think that is what sets apart a teacher from a good teacher”.

When asked what advice he would give to students wanting to pursue Engineering Technology, Powell states “If you like engineering but want more of a hands-on approach with alternative thinking methods to complex problems, then the Engineering Technology program may be the right fit for you”. With graduation coming up in December, Powell’s goal is to find a technologist career in the Aerospace, Systems, or Test engineering fields. 

To learn more about the Engineering Technology concentration, please set up a personalized appointment with the BPS Academic Support Specialist, Kellee Crawford. Crawford can be contacted at, 256.824.6673, or visit

For more information:
Kellee Crawford
Alisa Henrie, Ph.D.