TE Connectivity Expo, now in its 20th year, pairs engineers with eighth-graders to design, manufacture, and race miniature cars.

Max Schepps ’20 wasn’t at all surprised that his team’s matchbox-sized, red muscle car won the 2019 TE Connectivity Expo.

“We knew we had the fastest car in the heat,” he says. “Lots of hard work went into this, and we’re very happy with the result.”

His teammate, Tyler Gramigna ’20, wasn’t always so sure that “Pitbull Caliente” would end up smoking its rivals.

“But when we got our car to exactly 40 grams that’s when I started to think, ‘Ok, maybe we have a chance,’” he says. “And our car looks really cool. It looks fast. It looks mean.”

On May 3, a crowd of students filled the bleachers along one side of Broughal Middle School’s gymnasium and cheered as heat after heat of paired custom cars—there was a turtle, a spaceship, a unicorn, and Lightning McQueen—sailed (or not) down an undulating track. When matchups were close, things got loud.    

Now in its 20th consecutive year, the TE Connectivity Expo highlights the importance of manufacturing technology to Pennsylvania’s regional economy while opening doors for kids and families of South Bethlehem.

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The event is supported by global industrial technology leader TE Connectivity and pairs faculty, staff, and students of Lehigh’s mechanical engineering and mechanics department with students from the university’s next-door neighbor, Broughal. The spring program is part of the undergraduate manufacturing course Mechanical Engineering 240 and teaches kids about engineering as a potential career choice. The collaboration is also a source of serious fun.

Over the semester, teams of students from Lehigh and Broughal work together to design, manufacture, fabricate, and paint the cars. They learn to use computer-aided design (CAD), CNC machining, and injection-molding techniques to manufacture their dream rides.

This year, there were 31 teams comprising 103 Lehigh juniors—most of whom study mechanical engineering and mechanics—and 60 Broughal eighth-graders.

The expo was the culminating event of the course. Bobby Gunther Walsh, a NASCAR modified stock car race driver and radio announcer with local radio station WAEB 790 AM, once again volunteered his services as emcee.

“Our partnership with TE Connectivity is a long-standing and remarkable university-industry relationship,” says David C. Angstadt, associate chair of mechanical engineering and the professor leading the effort for the past decade. “The relationship was initially established by [Rossin College Senior Associate Dean for Research] John Coulter, who helped lead the creation of the car project. Through our continued relationship, the TE Connectivity directly supports this project and the manufacturing course. However, the funding provides benefits that extend well beyond a single course.”

“The project and expo are a boon to the kids of our local community and the public school next door,” continues Angstadt, who earned his PhD in mechanical engineering from Lehigh in 2004. “However, it also benefits Lehigh students, who get an opportunity to work on a project with a tangible outcome for a real customer. The interaction with the middle school students throughout the project as well as with representatives of TE Connectivity on race day allow them to get a glimpse of how students, educators, and employers can work as partners to mutual benefit. None of this would be possible without the continued support of TE Connectivity, and for that we are extremely grateful. That funding provides crucial equipment and materials to this endeavor, and allows us to do things that we would not otherwise be able to do.”

“We’re very excited about this collaboration with Lehigh University and Broughal Middle School,” says Lauren Benne, global manager of corporate responsibility at TE Connectivity. “Engineering, technology and innovation are at the heart of TE’s business, and certainly a big part of that is developing the next generation of engineering leaders. We’re proud to support this program.”

According to Rick Amato, principal of Broughal Middle School, the program is a highlight of its annual efforts to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to students.

“Lehigh’s campus is located across the street from our school,” says Amato, “and we are indeed fortunate to have many Lehigh students come to Broughal to work with our students to assist in their learning and to serve as positive role models. We believe that, with high expectations, our students can become the best learners they can be, and that relationships are the most powerful influencer to change oneself, one’s community, and our world. The annual effort leading up to and including TE Connectivity Expo is a great example of our school’s core values in action.”

2019 TE Connectivity Expo Photo Gallery

Scenes from 2019 TE Connectivity Expo

The 20th Annual TE Connectivity Expo was held May 3 in the Broughal Middle School gymnasium. The event, supported by industrial tech company TE Connectivity, is part of the undergraduate manufacturing course Mechanical Engineering 240.

2019 TE Connectivity Expo

Custom-built miniature race cars sped down the track at the 2019 TE Connectivity Expo.