UW-Barron County Rube Goldberg team wins national competition

When professor Christa James-Brynes traveled with her group of four students from UW-Barron County to the national Rube Goldberg competition in Columbus, Ohio, they were taken aback by the countless team members that competing schools had brought with them.

“You have no idea what it’s like to go down with four guys and my iPhone, and Purdue comes down there with three teams, fifteen students on each team, multiple advisors and a film crew,” says James-Byrnes.

Watch the video above to learn more about UW-Barron County’s team winning the Rube Goldberg competition: https://youtu.be/GP6b6-guj0s



That same level of grandeur was consistent in other teams from four-year engineering schools like Penn State and Arizona State University. Meanwhile, UW-Barron County didn’t even have a lab they could use at their campus.

That never dissuaded the team throughout their design process though, as they retained utmost confidence in their machine’s ability to complete the competition’s simple task – opening an umbrella – with the 45 steps they’d set up after months of work.

The team members included UW-Barron County students Dru Galetka, Mathew Dentinger, Jacob Saxinger and Zachary Metza, all four of whom plan to transfer to different UW four-year schools to continue their engineering education. Their inspiration for the machine came from a tech legend: Nikola Tesla.

“I had this great idea that we should do our Rube Machine as a tribute to Nikola Tesla,” says Dentinger. “That’s how we got our initial design idea and so we sat down to brainstorm”.

After several whiteboard sessions, the team finally had their design in place and set about building the actual contraption. The students utilized their own knowledge, and education from James-Byrnes Rube Goldberg class she started several years earlier after students expressed interest in building Rube Goldberg machines. The program encapsulates several distinct disciplines from writing to engineering.

Following months of work, they finally took their creation to the competition. The machine used all 45 steps to open the umbrella, and performed both its runs flawlessly. Theirs was the only device at the competition to perform both runs without a hiccup.

Their reward for months of testing and tinkering? The Division III National Title and the Best Presentation Award at the competition. They finished fourth in last year’s contest, and this represented their third year in a row to the national competition. A school as small as UW-Barron County winning these awards was unprecedented in the history of the contest.

“I am so proud of these young men. They demonstrated all of the skills we strive to teach as educators,” says James-Byrnes. “It was beyond anything I can explain to see how they went up against big name engineering schools with teams of 10-15 people and corporate sponsors and win.”

The four students will always look back fondly at the Rube Goldberg experience and their time at UW-Barron County as an important educational touchstone for their future plans.

“Being an engineer of Rube Goldberg machines is a really big influence for future employment,” says Saxinger. “There’s a lot of team building all encompassed in a Rube Goldberg machine, and that’s really why I wanted to do it from the beginning.”