For participants in West Virginia University’s Pumpkin Drop, “wait til next year,” begins awfully early.

“On the way back (to school) on the bus, the kids are already talking about next year and what they’re going to do,” said Jackie Hammond, a teacher at Mountainview Elementary School in Morgantown. “They take what they saw and what they learned and start planning.”

It’s the same at Suncrest Middle School in Morgantown, says Becky Haun, who mentors gifted students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade.

“For a couple of weeks, we talk about how we’re going to change things next year, what worked, what didn’t work,” Haun said. “I want (the students) to be reflective.”

For the 25th consecutive year, WVU’s Pumpkin Drop will be sparking young imaginations as pumpkins will be falling from atop WVU’s 11-story Engineering Sciences Building. This year’s Pumpkin Drop is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 26, at 9:30 a.m.

Mountainview will send 13 teams and Suncrest Middle more than 25, the teachers said. They will join nearly 300 teams from across West Virginia and Pennsylvania at this year’s event, including last year’s winner from Gilmer County (W.Va.) High School.

Haun was at the first Pumpkin Drop, attending as a WVU student. The mother of two WVU engineering students, she says she likes to get her Suncrest students on campus “as much as possible” to expose them to the University and the possibilities of higher education.

On Friday, WVU President Jim Clements will lead the first team (the Morrison family of Clarksburg, W.Va., who are home schooled) up to the drop-off point to officially kick-off this year’s event. In celebration of the Drop’s silver anniversary, pumpkin No. 25, belonging to one of the Mountainview teams, will be dropped by Rita Bajura, a member of the Academy of Distinguished Alumni of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics in WVU’s Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

Other special guests expected to attend include the Mountaineer mascot, Jonathan Kimble of Franklin, W.Va., and members of the WVU cheerleading squad.

The goal of the competition is to design an enclosure or apparatus to protect a pumpkin from damage when dropped from the roof of the building. The surviving pumpkins that land closest to a target on the ground and the pumpkin carrying device having the best design will be among the winning entries. Pumpkins must be at least 10 inches in diameter and the pumpkin and its protective structure weight is limited to 60 pounds. Entries typically include parachutes.

Hammond said the Mountainview teams prepare for four to six weeks, first studying the effect of an egg in protective packaging being dropped from a ladder.

Through the egg drop and building a model roller coaster, the children research gravity, velocity and speed and start to form ideas for their pumpkin projects. The fifth-graders, she said, typically have experience with the event, and know to plan for wind effects that often occur on the long descent.

Suncrest Middle students have developed basic designs that each class modifies and makes its own, Haun said.

“But every year, we get some unusual, out- of-the-box things,” she said.

Participating in the Pumpkin Drop is a tradition at Mountainview and Suncrest Middle and also many schools throughout the state and region. And the students don’t take the competition lightly.

“We’re very competitive here,” Hammond said. “The kids don’t like to lose.”

Haun, whose students have captured first-, second- and third-place over the years, says her students analyze the hundreds of entries, incorporating the best components of each one. They often test their entries by dropping them from one of the school’s second floor windows, Haun said.

Along with science and problem-solving, the event also sparks students’ creativity as many teams develop elaborate designs for their pumpkin-holding device. The event also exposes school children to a college campus and piques their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

“It’s very exciting for our children and we appreciate WVU holding an event like this,” Hammond said.

Associate Professor Emeritus Wally Venable will again serve as judge for this year’s event.

Refreshments and commemorative “Pumpkin Drop” t-shirts will be for sale, with proceeds benefiting Ronald McDonald House in Morgantown. Participating companies include the Hilton Garden Inn, which is donating pumpkin pies; Office Depot, which donated campus banners, classroom items for teachers and candy for the students participating; and Suburban Extended Stay Hotel, which donated pumpkin rolls.

The event is sponsored by WVU’s student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. ASME’s mission is to serve our diverse global communities by advancing, disseminating and applying engineering knowledge for improving the quality of life; and communicating the excitement of engineering.



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CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon