PBS to feature student on new engineering reality series

Dwight “Dewey” Hahn didn’t spend his summer like a normal GW student. While most students slaved away at internships or typical summer jobs, Hahn participated in a reality television show.

Hahn, a freshman from Stow, Mass., competed on the PBS show “Design Squad,” which pits two teams against eachother in construction and technical challenges. The prize at stake was a $10,000 college scholarship from Intel Foundation, a laptop and a feature article in Make magazine.

“I’m not really good at math or science,” Hahn said. “But my parents are big do-it-yourselfers, so my older brother and I were always around to help and I guess that is what gave me a lot of my interest and experience.”

The contestants on “Design Squad” learn to take raw materials and transform them into workable solutions. Through construction and technology, the activities are complex enough to excite the audience and possibly motivate them to do these activities on their own.

“We know from an evaluation that . students’ attitudes towards engineering and engineering stereotypes and their understanding of the engineering design process improved significantly,” said Marisa Wolsky, executive producer of Design Star. “After watching the show, students had a greater interest in participating in an engineering after-school program.”

Hahn found out about the show from Maureen Dugan, his high school biology teacher. She had contacts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who told her about the show and she encouraged her students to apply. Hahn jumped at the chance.

“My teacher got an e-mail saying there was a tryout and she said I should apply,” Hahn said. “To be honest, I figured it was just an excuse to go into Boston.”

Although Hahn is mainly interested in history and international affairs, Dugan said that Hahn’s personality and creativity in biology class and in other areas allowed him to fit in on the engineering show, which will air in April.

“What strikes me most about Dwight is that he is a natural leader,” Dugan said. “People just gravitate to him.”

Dugan and Wolsky said Hahn’s sarcastic humor is part of his charm.

“Over 13 episodes, Dwight contributed day in and day out to get the job done,” Wolsky said. “He was a great team player and very funny. Humor goes a long way when the clock is ticking.”

Kim Gaughan, a senior at Scituate High School in Scituate, Mass., was another contestant on Design Squad. She worked with Hahn for most of the first challenges.

“Dewey was definitely a strong person to have on your team,” Gaughan said. “Not only that, but you’d have a good time joking around with him. He’s got a great sense of humor – very sarcastic.”

The challenges included building cardboard furniture for an IKEA showroom, creating a portable diced onion chopper and dispenser for a local hot dog vendor and constructing a gravity bike.

A favorite challenge of both Hahn and Gaughan was building a go-kart.

“It tested everyone’s skills,” Hahn said of the challenge. “And they are really fun to drive.”

Although Hahn is majoring in international affairs, he said he would consider transferring into the engineering school after being on the show.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Hahn said. “But let’s just say that I would never cross a bridge that I had a hand in making.”

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