Nathalie Darden, Assistant Department Chair and Assistant Professor in the Mathematics Department, shared her love of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) with Freehold Regional High School District students last month. She presented her roller coaster building activity to approximately 90 high school students, self-declared STEM students, as part of the school’s Engineering Mini Academy. The Academy, which is designed to introduce students to different disciplines in engineering, runs for 6 weeks on Wednesdays and involves several hands-on activities.

“Modeling is important.”
-Nathalie Darden


The students enjoyed the roller coaster building challenge that Darden found on the DiscoverE website, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping students get interested in engineering. Darden explained the challenge was to create a roller coaster track to carry a marble all the way through a course that must consist of one loop and one hill as well as being structurally sound. The website listed the necessary materials but no instructions on how to build it. Darden explained it took two weekends to figure out how to get it to work.


“The roller coaster night is always a fan favorite as is Professor Darden. The students love getting this hands on experience,” and it encourages them to think creatively.”
-Victoria Alaniz


The activity accomplished two goals – having fun while learning how to design a roller coaster and learning learn the global aspects of civil engineering, including which cost effectiveness, while being the steward of your client’s money. The students learned about and applied the principles of acceleration, centripetal force, friction, inertia, kinetic energy, momentum and potential energy in their projects.
Darden created a cost sheet with choices and prices of materials used in the construction of the roller coaster to go along with the activity. Students were each asked to bring one article of removable clothing with them to be used in the activity. “Using a glove or scarf for the hill allowed them to save money by reusing excavated soil from their construction site,” said Darden.


“The Mini Engineering Academy and the engineering program at my high school helped me decide what major I wanted to pursue.”
-William Rushing


Darden explained at the Academy this year, there was one team of all girls who successfully completed the challenge fairly quickly. “I take those opportunities to empower the young ladies,” she said. Encouraging students, especially female students, to become interested in engineering and other STEM fields is very important. “Modeling is important,” said Darden because students need to see enthusiastic adults in the STEM fields so the students pursue STEM majors and careers.
Darden has been involved with the program since its beginning in 2016. Brookdale alumni Dru Reynolds, who was not a STEM major but was active with the college’s W.E.S.T. (Women in Engineering, Science, & Technology) student organization, is the coordinator of the Academy. When she was initially planning the Academy, Reynolds contacted Darden and asked her to develop a civil engineering activity. Darden said she enjoys sharing her roller coaster activity with the Academy students.
This year, Darden and Reynolds were joined by alumni of the Academy program. Current Brookdale STEM majors William Rushing and Victoria Alaniz volunteered to help with the roller coaster activity. Both students participated in the Manalapan High School Engineering Mini Academy in 2016 and said this program was instrumental in their decision to become STEM majors at Brookdale.