(FOUNTAIN, Colo.) — It was a time crunch in Bob Zanzig’s classroom, with students eagerly building a functional vending machine with school supplies inside.

“These are all first-year engineering students who up until about mid-November, we’re learning how to program and build autonomous machines,” said Bob Zanzig, Science and Engineering Teacher at Mesa Ridge High School. “And for their final, we decided to do a school supply vending machine that takes 3D printed coins…instead of taking real money and then they have to do everything from building it, designing it, programing it, and making it all work. And they are literally in the last hour and 15 minutes of it right now.”

Building a vending machine was a project that utilizes the students’ engineering skills and applies it to real life.

“I love the all the hands-on stuff. So getting to actually, like, take an idea that you draw up on a piece of paper and build it into something that is functional,” said Ethan Pease, Junior at Mesa Ridge High School. “Kind of like… the vending machine here because it will hopefully get used in the business office.”

On Friday afternoon, two first-year engineering classes competed for who could build the best working vending machine.

Zanzig shared that the winner would get a 200-point final grade.

“I’m hoping we did enough to compete,” said Cody Vulich, Senior at Mesa Ridge High School. “They have definitely put up a good competition with their organization and getting everything they can get done and making it look nice and pretty.”

Students worked in pairs of two to create their own individual dispensers that would be used inside the vending machine. Students added all of the working components inside the machine.

“My favorite part so far has honestly just been like getting everything together now,” said Pease. “So it was a lot of, like, different machines. You have to, like, find a way to make sure they all connect and make sure they all work in tandem with each other. So that was one of the bigger challenges that we’re currently facing.”

Another challenge students expressed was programming the machine so it would dispense the products.

“I think so far it’s been the coding because the way that our machine works is that we have different tokens, that have different colors,” said Pease. “So we have to make sure that…those have a specific price and that the coins in the coin slot can read what coins are put in and like, what’s the exchange”

Using the 3D coins, the vending machine would then dispense a product.

3D coins used in the vending machines

Zanzig shared that the students provided him with a list of items to fill the vending machine.

“I bought all the products off Amazon and then they have to program it so that way it functions properly,” said Zanzig. “Timing wise, depending on what variant it is, there’s either conveyor belts or a spiral spring mechanism that they built out of wire hangers.”

Vulich explained why students decided to include school supplies like erasers, pencils, notebooks, and scissors inside the vending machine.

“Oftentimes we maybe forget a supplier to going into class like an eraser or scissors or pencils,” said Vulich. “We wanted to create a vending machine so that it’s easy, accessible for us to, you know, just pick it up on the way to class.”

Students work together to assemble the vending machine

The course brings together students from freshman to senior year and has them work together.

“Sometimes I find them a little ridiculous because I’m like I’m a ninth grader and I know some things that they don’t,” said Silas Mahnke, Freshman at Mesa Ridge High School. “And then sometimes they surprise me, like with that pack of pencils thing down there, I saw the other vending machine doing that. I was like, Oh, that’s a really cool idea. I’ve never thought of that before.”

Items that can be found inside the vending machine.

A big smile remained on Zanzig’s face throughout the afternoon as he watched his students work on their vending machine.

“This is all them. All I did was give them an idea and tell them to run with it,” said Zanzig. “You see how they’re working. These are all real-world job skills, whether they become engineers or work construction or whatever it is they decide to do with their life that they’re able to do this. This is marketable and this is moneymaking for them and that makes me so proud.”

In regard to who won the competition, Zanzig shared that it was the fourth block course. However, the real prize is the skills and friendships these students can take away from this course.

“Definitely has helped me, like, learn a lot of things from them because they’ve definitely done a lot of really cool stuff that I have learned from,” said Mahnke. “And I feel like in my couple of months here at Mesa that I’ve learned a lot.”