New freshmen will spend a good part of their first week at the University of Missouri-Rolla designing and racing remote-controlled vehicles through campus as part of Project X, UMR’s version of the X Games.
More than 950 incoming freshmen will arrive on campus a full week before classes officially begin on Aug. 21. The new students are scheduled to move into residence halls or Greek fraternities and sororities on Aug. 12-13.
“We feel Opening Week is a great way to get the freshmen acclimated to campus before their first semester begins,” says Patty Frisbee, director of New Student Programs at UMR. “They make friends, learn about the university and work in teams.”
Project X “missions” begin on Tuesday of Opening Week and continue through Thursday. The freshmen are grouped in teams of 15 to participate in the missions, which are geared toward teaching the students about UMR and its traditions.
Teams that perform well during the Project X missions earn “Miner bucks” for their racing vehicles. The idea is to earn enough of these bucks to buy materials that can enhance the performance and look of a standard remote control car.
Prior to the missions, teams will have a choice between a larger, sturdier vehicle or a smaller, faster car. The vehicles are being donated by Wal-Mart Distribution Center No. 6069 and NIKKO America.
“Our students are competitive and enjoy hands-on learning,” says Frisbee. “With that in mind, Project X was born three years ago.”
Each year, Project X has a different set of rules and objectives. This year, each team will have to figure out a way to carry a “barge” on top of its car. With Miner bucks earned from the missions, teams can buy items like rubber bands, string and other accessories that enable them to address design challenges.
During the Project X race — which is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, on campus — each team must stop its car at the “River of Doom,” remove the barge, and then drive the car via remote-control onto the barge, which then must cross the river.
The team with the fastest time through the entire course, after any penalties are assessed, wins — last year one of the top prizes was dinner with UMR’s chancellor. But UMR Student Council also gives out a MacGyver Award to the team with the most creatively designed vehicle.
In addition to Project X, Opening Week at UMR features social activities and academic workshops.
Most of the week’s activities are planned and supervised by 15 student leaders who work under the direction of Frisbee. An additional 60 upperclassmen are trained to mentor new students during Opening Week and to help them make successful transitions to UMR.
Faculty members also volunteer to eat lunch with students and to talk with them about classroom expectations.
Academic workshops begin on Monday and continue throughout the week in conjunction with other activities. The workshops give freshmen practical classroom and laboratory experience before the semester officially starts. Some students take advanced placement exams during Opening Week. An incoming freshman might test out of trigonometry, for example, and qualify to go straight to calculus.
Participation is not mandatory during Opening Week, but Frisbee says about 85 percent of the freshmen take advantage of daily activities.