Spends Summer on TV Set
Lindsey Nguyen ’10 on the set of Design Squad.
Lindsey Nguyen ’10
wads up a basketball team T-shirt and weighs it in her
hand. She ponders: What would be the best and safest way
to catapult the shirt into the upper seating sections during
Connecticut Suns professional basketball games?
It’s a hot week
in July, and Nguyen is racing against time. Her team of
three women is competing against a team of three men to
engineer the best solution for getting those T-shirts to
fans in the cheap seats. A T-shirt slingshot? A modified
It’s a typical week
for Nguyen, who was a participant this summer on , an
engineering reality show produced by ,
a PBS affiliate in Boston. The show’s six contestants—three
male and three female college students—compete in
different engineering-oriented challenges each week as
the cameras gather footage of their teamwork and ingenuity.
At the end of the week, each team (not always aligned by
gender) puts its design to the test and clients participating
in the show award points for the best engineering.
Nguyen ties her T-shirt to hold its balled form and tosses
it to her teammate across the room. Not bad, her expression
says, good cohesion and weight, but could be better. They
get to work, all the while the cameras rolling.
“It needs to be heavy enough to fly through the air
but light enough to be safe,” she comments. Dorothy
Dickie, the Design Squad director, steps into the
set to lead a mini-rehearsal of Nguyen’s T-shirt toss
before re-shooting the scene.
The Design Squad set is in a warehouse in Woburn,
Mass., sitting amid a quiet residential neighborhood. The
show, which shot footage for its third season this summer,
has become a popular program, appealing to teens and the
college-aged as well as techno-geeks of all ages. Design
Squad is part of the WGBH initiative called “Engineer
Your Life,” which was launched in 2004 to extend the
accessibility of engineering and inspire college-bound girls
and women to explore the field.
Nguyen, an engineering major
with a government minor, was selected for the show from among
hundreds who auditioned last spring, including five of her
classmates in the Picker Engineering Program.
The third season, featuring Nguyen and her teammates from
schools including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Boston University and Duke University, will air nationally
in fall 2009.
her team's successful animal water-rescue device
from Design Squad challenge #2.
Now that it’s September,
Nguyen is back at Smith, ensconced in engineering curricula
and playing on the field hockey team. But her summer as
a reality show contestant gave her a unique view of life
on a television set.
“There are a lot of communication
issues that you have to work out,” she said of the
show, which typically gave the teams only two days to develop
their solutions to engineering challenges. Most of that time
was spent with the added pressure of cameras watching every
Smith, of course, you get much more time to work on projects.
Here, you have distractions, the director’s always
around, and you kind of worry about your image.”
Other engineering challenges had Nguyen and her co-contestants
constructing a water-transport device for injured animals
in New Orleans; designing an athletic wheelchair that would
enable a female paralympian to train alone for wheelchair
games; and creating a pedal-powered rotisserie grill for
Redbones Barbeque, a restaurant in Somerville, Mass.
At night, when they weren’t
solving engineering riddles on the Design Squad set,
it was time to relax. “We
do typical things, hang out and watch movies,” said
Nguyen in July. The six contestants shared a house on the
MIT campus. “We talk about our projects some, fix dinner
A Brockton native and
the “elder” of the group—the
only college junior among sophomores and first-years—Nguyen
led the group on tours in the area, to Revere Beach, for
example, and often acted as mediator when tempers flared. “There
are some tensions off-camera,” she admits. “Some
people work well together, others not so well. I try to just
give everyone a lot of respect.”
Nguyen will never forget
her summer on a TV set, she said. “Design
Squad was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I got to make great friends, learn many new engineering
skills in each challenge, and even got to travel! I am
glad that I’m part of a show that inspires young
kids by making engineering exciting.”
As for that slingshot
T-shirt challenge back in July, it was “not as successful as the tests in the shop showed,” Nguyen
reported recently. “Our design did not launch properly.
But that’s the way it goes. Sometimes things just happen
that you don’t plan for, and that’s part of engineering.”