2017 URI Rube Goldberg Competition

Photo by Neil Nachbar

By Neil Nachbar

URI Hall Director Michael Lapointe wanted to create an event that would unite the five dorms that fall under his supervision: Hopkins, Hutchinson, Merrow, Peck and Tucker. Since four of the five halls comprise the Engineering Living and Learning Community (ELLC), Lapointe thought the perfect event would be a Rube Goldberg competition.

Rube Goldberg was an engineer turned Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist. For 55 years, he drew contraptions that were complex and wacky, but had an ingenious, logical progression to them.

“I wanted to create a new, on-going tradition that brought the five buildings together to work on a common goal and have fun in the process,” explained Lapointe.

The teams were all given the same basic elements to work with, including marbles, mouse traps, popsicle sticks, bamboo skewers, dominos, plastic rulers, a fly swatter, corrugated cardboard, playing cards, paper clips, rubber bands and about 65 other assorted items.

“Constructing a Rube Goldberg device requires basic engineering and problem solving skills,” said Lapointe. “Being somewhat based in whimsy, it made teams think creatively and outside the box.”

For a couple of weeks, the students worked on the design and function of their machines. On April 2, the teams brought their materials to the Memorial Union Ballroom to construct and operate their devices.

“As teams worked on their machines, I saw joy, concentration, frustration, trial and error, camaraderie, competition and pride,” said Lapointe. “That was what I had hoped for. It was engaging, challenging and fun for the participants.”

One of the participants, sophomore Andrew Strong, described the building of the device as a “weird, organic process.” The biomedical engineering student from Hopkins Hall added, “we tested each section of our project five or six times, but it’s a matter of them all working together cohesively.”

The teams were judged on the number of materials they used and how their machine functioned. The judges were:

  • John Sears, Assistant Vice President, Student Affairs & Director Department of Housing and Residential Life
  • Daniel Roxbury, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering
  • Musa Jouaneh, Professor, Department of Mechanical,  Industrial and Systems Engineering
  • Karen Sherman, Assistant Director in the Department of Housing and Residential Life

The winning team was from Merrow Hall. They won a pizza party for their living community, a trophy with the building named as the winner and a framed team picture with the names of the team members.

Lapointe credited the staff in the residence halls and the support of the College of Engineering, the Memorial Union and the Theatre Department for the success of the event.

The hall director was especially thankful of Coordinator of Academic Affairs Tamura Leso.

“Tammy and I met with the Resident Academic Mentors. She bought into the program from the get-go and helped me promote the idea with the RAMs,” recalled Lapointe. “She also helped formulate the rules and expectations. She essentially molded the idea into a reality.”

Leso was very pleased with the turnout and what was achieved from the event.

“This year’s Rube Goldberg competition set the stage for future competitions,” said Leso “We are incredibly encouraged by the student participation, innovation and community spirit surrounding this event.”

She also made it clear that Lapointe’s efforts played an integral role in bringing the competition to fruition.

“Michael LaPointe’s vision and passion were essential to launching the Rube Goldberg competition,” stated Leso. “He worked above and beyond to provide the best possible experience for his students.”

View photos from the event.