IEEE Holds 30th Annual Chili Cook Off
March 13, 2009
Erin D. McKenzie

A brave professor holding down the dunking booth was not the only wet one at the UH Chapter of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Chili Cook Off Thursday night.

But the showers drizzling down on the event did little to dampen spirits or ease the jolt of even the strongest chili as faculty, representatives from area engineering companies, students and alumni gathered for the longtime University of Houston tradition.

“I want to thank everyone for sticking it out in the rain,” said Marlon Belleth, chair of the IEEE student chapter. “It was extremely successful and I’m pleased with my officers and how hard they worked to make the transition inside.”

In the thirty years the chapter has hosted their annual event it was the first time in recent years wet weather and unseasonably chilly temperatures forced the crowd, which swelled to more than 150, from campus grounds into the Y Building.

With the exception of foregoing a few activities—volleyball and the slide rule contest—the event went on as planned, just in tighter quarters, Belleth said. There were all the favorites from previous years: sumo wrestling, chili tasting, basketball, a ping-pong tournament and the main event—the chili contest.

Judges Len Trombetta, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Nicole Stewart, an electrical engineering graduate student and UH Police Sgt. Jon Williams waded through 11 bowls of chili before naming a winner in both the student organization and company categories. Their palates unanimously preferred the savory, mildly spicy concoction served up by the IEEE student group. It was the second win in a row for the organization, who beat out four others for the title.

Byran Villalon, a sophomore electrical engineering major and IEEE member, made the chili for the first time this year, perfecting the recipe through several test batches.

“The secret was practice,” said Villalon after learning of the win at the March 12 event. “It worked the first time, I’ve just been modifying it since then. It took about five batches to get where it is today.”

A tiebreaker, involving tasting more chili, was required to determine the winner in the company category. For the second year, Fluor Corporation was named the chili champ. Martin Coll, human resources manager at the company and cook, said a little extra spice added to this year’s batch might have sealed the win.

All were recognized in an awards ceremony following the contest. Students in an online poll prior to the event voted Trombetta professor of the year, who braved 50-degree temperatures in the dunk tank. He was delivered the news and honored with a plaque at the event.

And in amidst all the traditional activities, was a new addition to the event. A competition featuring a robotics group formed this fall for students in their freshman through junior year of study by John Glover, electrical and computer engineering professor.

During the year, students constructed either a NXT or VEX robot—learning to do basic programming. Thursday’s competition was the culmination of months of work, pitting the two teams against one another. After the NXT team was unable to complete the track, the VEX robot group, Team Cougar Cop, won the competition with a single clean run of the track.

Fueled by the support of corporate sponsors — Fluor Corporation, CenterPoint Energy, L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., EDG Inc, The University of Houston Engineering Alumni Association, EPCO Inc. and Williams — the cook off provided students an opportunity for informal interaction with the companies present. The event also helped the group raise money for scholarships and other activities by the organization. It will help send the two senior robotics teams to the IEEE Region 5 Annual Meeting and Student Conference in April, where they will compete with other engineering colleges in a robot competition.

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