Getting The Doohickey Done — 'There's Something Wrong With These Yellow Things'
By MARA LEE
October 05, 2012
HARTFORD — The assembly group from Henry James Middle School was having trouble figuring out how to attach the top module of a K'Nex engineering kit.
A boy in a Fenway Park T-shirt, who had helped assemble one of the modules, couldn't contain his anxiety. "Please! Please! They are so close!" he cried.
The students were competing with six other teams from schools around central Connecticut at the Manufacturing Mania event at the State Armory. The race was on to get the swing-set-topped doohickey done. When completed, a hand crank would make the top module rotate. But on their model, the top module was a bit askew, and the gears were definitely not catching.
"There's something wrong with these yellow things," a girl coached.
"We know," the head assembler said.
After what seemed like 10 minutes, but in reality was much shorter, Dylan Erasmus jiggled the gears into alignment, and the doohickey was ready to be judged.
Dylan, an eighth-grader, is thinking he'd like to be an architect. "I like the engineering. It's really fun," he said. "You have that good feeling, you built something that's difficult."
The students were among 650 from 10 middle schools and nine high schools who attended Manufacturing Mania Friday, on U.S. Manufacturing Day.
For years, local aerospace companies have tried to capture the imagination of high school students, looking for a way to accelerate the flow of students into community college machining programs.
This year, the effort has expanded to the allow the public to visit a show of local manufacturers, and organizers from Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology added a mock factory challenge.
The middle schoolers actually did better than the high schoolers. Some of the high school teams couldn't get the top module to rotate properly, and all of the middle schoolers did.
Some, like Simsbury's Thomas Girard, play with K'Nex at home. He already wants to go into manufacturing — designing lasers used in robotics.
Ashley Bedard, of Woodstock Middle School, said she learned a lot from that challenge and how teamwork at every step mattered.
"If something was wrong, it affected the whole project," she said.
Nathan Bruce, a CCAT employee who judged the results, said that's why he was a tough grader. If the colors of bars or gears didn't match the pictures in the instructions, he deducted points and sent it back, even if it didn't affect functionality.
Bruce interned at a Pitney Bowes factory while in college, even though he didn't have a manufacturing-related major. He discovered a mistake in mail-sorting machines that had been made for the past year — and required visits to hundreds of customers around the country to repair.
"That was a very expensive mistake," he said. "It gave me a good perspective."
Mateo Varegas of Bridgeport, a volunteer at the event, said the day could be effective in getting students to choose both a technical high school and the manufacturing concentration there.
"They could change their life in one second," said his Platt Tech classmate Alex Villacorta.
Mateo, a junior, attends Platt Technical High School in Milford, and the entire machining class attended as volunteers. Of more than 20 students, just three are girls.
He said he picked Platt in part because manufacturing caught his eye. "It's good paying," he said. "It gives you enormous pride."
He said he might go to community college for more training after he graduates, but his ultimate goal is to work at an aerospace company.
Mateo said, "All of the [machining] students that graduate out of Platt get jobs right away."
Manufacturing Mania is free and open to the public at the State Armory, 360 Broad St., Hartford, on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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