Zoo Train Challenge

What if Milwaukee area students designed and built a new steam locomotive for the County Zoo?

Well, you can’t start by simply building a new steam engine, but you could prototype a process with a simpler project. We’re working with Coalition for Sustainable Rail, the Milwaukee County Zoo and partners from higher-ed and industry to develop a series of engineering challenges for area high schools.

Over the 2018-19 school year we had teams from 6 area high schools working to design a replacement for the wooden water tower that services the steam locomotive. Teams shared their design decisions and approach to the project at a conceptual design review hosted by MSOE in December, and moved on to detailed design in the spring semester. In May, UWM hosted a final design review where our team of reviewers from the Zoo, CSR, GRAEF, and CG Schmidt selected an approach to move forward with.  That design was the focus of a summer workshop at UWM to produce detailed design drawings.

Along the way, university and industry partners have stepped up to offer on-campus experiences to student teams that helped inform their designs.

This fall, additional schools are joining the effort to fabricate and assemble the components for the water tower and take on the next challenge, dealing with the awkward process now used to sift and load coal for the locomotives.

Who’s Involved?


We’re working with a mix of city and suburban schools, including Bay View High School, Brown Deer High School, Carmen High School, Elmbrook’s Launch Program, Franklin High School, Menomonee Falls High School, Messmer High School, New Berlin’s High School, Obama High School, and St. Joan Antida.  We are delighted to have not only their participation but their support and ideas in developing the process.

Want to get your school involved?  Let us know.

Higher-ed Partners

We are grateful for the support of our higher-ed partners who are providing access to their expertise, facilities, and students to help our school teams.

Your Company?

Ways in which your company might support this student Learning Experience:

Become an Adviser or Mentor

We’re putting together a pool of industry advisers from area firms and near-peer mentors from local universities to help student teams.  For details, look here.

Become a sponsor

We’re looking to cover roughly half the project costs through local funding.  If you’d like to help sponsor the project contact us and we can walk you through the options–  let us know.

Share your expertise

We’re working with other local partners to set up opportunities for schools to tap their expertise, through school based, or on-site workshops.  If you have an idea about how your company or organization might be able to help, let us know.

2023-24 Collab Labs

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