Heritage engineering students build homes for abandoned squirrels

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The students in Jason Siwek’s eighth-grade engineering class have spent more than a week trying to solve a problem several of them say is high-stakes: The Ohio Wildlife Center needs homes for young and orphaned squirrels who require nursing and additional help before they can be re-released into the wild. 

As part of the assignment, students had to design and construct homes that account for the squirrels’ size, its predators and their needs to adapt back into the wild. The homes also had to be mounted to a tree and not include chemicals toxic to their environment.

“It’s cool because it’s the first thing that we’ve done for something outside of a project for a grade,” eighth-grader Holden Gray said. 

Before students could start drafting designs, they had to research squirrels, the dangers to the species and its diet. They looked into the wood for the homes, learning about those that naturally repel insects and don’t leave residue that could be harmful to the environment.

Students also had the option to construct a bird or chipmunk feeder and conducted similar research for those projects. 

The assignment stemmed from a conversation Siwek had with representatives from the center when he delivered an injured hummingbird to their wildlife hospital. He inquired how he and his engineering students could help and the representative described their needs for squirrel housing.

For materials, Siwek reached out to Home Depot and they donated slabs of cedar for the students to use for their projects. He worked with students as they used saws to cut the wood and hand drills to screw the pieces together. Some students used the laser printed to embed messages on wood: “Get out of my house.” “Welcome to the nut house.”

While the project provides students a real-world application of the lessons they learn in class, Siwek hopes they learn how they can use their engineering and design skills to contribute to their community.

“They can use these skills to design and build things of their own choice,” he said. “A lot of what we do connects: How are you building things for your own future?”

Gray and his class partner, Devan Welsh, said the project is a welcome challenge as both have never worked with wood before. They looked at different squirrel home designs before creating one that has holes on the side like a bird house and features a roof with a latch.

On Wednesday, they penciled measurements onto a slab of wood before using a hand saw to cut the slats they needed. 

“I hope they like this house,” Gray said.