Brainstorming Idea Pays Off For Students, Town Engineers

Highland Park senior Sam Nastri studies a sewer outside the high school. (Staff photo: Chris McGathey)

He’s driven past them a thousand times, but Highland Park High School senior Sam Nastri never thought he’d learn how to measure a storm drain.

“I’ve always thought there’s got to be something cool down there,” Nastri said.

The Highland Park Engineering Department approached the high school to pitch an idea: get kids to help out with a town project in exchange for community service hours, which are required for all graduating students.

“The main goal for the town is to get in with the students and show them real-life engineering,” engineer assistant David Ferguson said.

Ferguson first taught the students about the geographic information system, or GIS. Next, he trained them on handheld GPS devices to log the type, size, and location of storm inlets to track water inflow and outflow.

“It’s like an old, big Palm Pilot,” senior Chris Gilbert said of the black-and-yellow gadget.

Volunteers from Gordon Williamson’s “earth and space” class paired up to explore storm drains on weekday afternoons or weekends. Each group was responsible for specific sections of the town, mapped out by Ferguson.

“It’s the whole real-world factor,” Williamson said. “It broadened their horizons about how valuable geographical information is.”

With college on the horizon, not all of the students think of engineering as a future career. But Ferguson explained that GIS and GPS training spans many fields.

“He sold us pretty well,” Gilbert said. “He told us that many colleges are starting to use the program.”

As for the town’s benefit, the data collected goes into reports that will be turned over to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“We need to know where those inlets were,” Ferguson said. “That’s the main thing we got the kids involved with.”

With this initial project done, Ferguson hopes to get students involved in more efforts next year, such as mosquito tracking.

“It’s not just getting your hands dirty,” Ferguson said. “It’s using your mind.”

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