Just six days before Christmas, children at the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus received a special delivery of handmade toys Tuesday.
The toys came in brown paper packages tied with blue ribbon and were delivered out of large red and white sacks. But they didn’t come from the North Pole, and they weren’t made by elves. Instead, students at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science’s engineering club spent two months designing catapults and fidget spinners made by the school’s 3D printer.
It was the brainchild of senior Leah Pettit, who wanted to get more MSMS students interested in the engineering club and came up with a concept she thought would get the less active members interested again.
“I wanted it to matter,” Pettit said. “I wanted to have something that we did in the shop that wasn’t just a training exercise, that actually did something important.”
“We essentially have a relatively large workforce of students who are interested in engineering that we could utilize to make toys for children for Christmas,” she added, “and it just seemed like it was going to work pretty well, so we did.”
The finished project was 179 fidget spinners and 179 handmade toy catapults that can shoot marshmallow-sized projectiles, said senior Daniel Smothers. Each catapult came with small pom-poms, the sort that can be purchased from craft stores.
“The 3D printer … takes plastic, it heats it up and then it spits it out,” Smothers said. “That’s essentially what it does. And then on top of that, there is a program that we have in the printer. It’s processing G code. It follows the code to the pattern we have selected, and it just sits there and spits out (plastic) in that shape and just keeps going layer by layer. If you look at the toys, you can see the layers on them.”
Pettit said she hopes the children not only enjoy the toys, but think about how they’re made and become interested in engineering and other STEM fields from there.
Of the 179 children who received toys, 33 were from Palmer Home for Children and the rest from the Boys and Girls Club — including 8-year-old Madison Grays, a third-grader. Smothers sat down with her and showed her how to fire the small green pom-pom from her catapult. The pom-pom flew about four feet.
Grays seemed impressed.
“I’ve been to (the science carnival) at MSMS before,” she said. “I love MSMS. I thought it was really cool to do science experiments.”
The students also designed a large Jenga game for the club itself, which the students showed the Boys and Girls club children how to play.
Boys and Girls Club director Nadia Colom was happy the MSMS students were able to make and deliver the toys.
“It gives out kids a chance to just see themselves, their future selves, and opportunities that they may not have been able to imagine having,” Colom said. “… So that’s always a great thing.
“A lot of our kids … don’t know that MSMS is such a distinguished high school,” she added. “I just think the exposure it provides alone is great. And then I love the idea that these are engineering students. People give us gifts all the time and we always appreciate the thought. But for the younger kids who are just interested in doing things with their hands and like the idea of being able to make things will like that they’re getting a gift that’s been made by students who are pursuing careers in this field.”
Engineering club advisor Josh Crowson and MSMS executive director Germain McConnell went with the four students who delivered the toys to Boys and Girls Club.
“I think (the MSMS students) really value the opportunity they have at MSMS and I think they see this as an opportunity to give back some of what’s been given to them,” Crowson said.
McConnell said the toy-making and delivery is just one example of the creativity of MSMS students.
As for the children who received presents, they have something extra unique for the holidays.
“How many kids get 3D-printed toys for Christmas?” said senior Jim Zhang, who helped deliver the toys. “It’s awesome.”