If you’ve been around awhile you might have thought the MEM lab was just for the Introduction to Manufacturing Systems Lab (MEM 2212), and as we learned many students felt the labs were not usable for their own exploration and learning outside of class. That is about to change. Over the summer, the University and the School of Engineering provided the funding and resources to renovate the MEM lab spaces, located in EII 102 and EII 106. MEM discussed the lab spaces with various faculty and students to plan a new lab space that would be more inviting and more useful to students. While the lab is still evolving and growing in tools and lab features, the renovation is complete and students are already finding it an inviting place to meet, study and work on group projects together.
EII 106 will be the MEM Applied Learning Laboratory (ALL) and primarily used for the MEM 2212 lab course right now. Inside there will be a flexibly designed classroom area, storage cabinets for classwork, the CNC machines and the 3D printers used in the course, as well as some computers students may need as they grow in their design skills.
EII 102 will be the Exploration Laboratory and Innovation Space (ELIS) and will be a place where students can come and explore and innovate individually or as groups. There is a dedicated space with workbench tables and higher stools, a lounge area for meetings to discuss ideas or study together, a row of cabinets that will soon house exploration and learning kits to aid in learning concepts or gain new professional skills, a storage area for group projects, a conveyor table, tools, a robot arm, and additional manufacturing related exploration pieces and a conference room that students and faculty can reserve. Technology will soon be added to the space to allow for virtual meetings, digital collaboration, and more.
The lab has regular open hours and students who have completed MEM 2212 are eligible to request independent lab access. More information can be found on the MEM website at: https://mem.uconn.edu/student-experience/mem-lab/
The University of Connecticut being a state university doesn’t stop students from coming from around the world or across the country. Alexa Boden, currently a junior in Management and Engineering for Manufacturing came to UConn from Chicago, Illinois and brought her own goals and ideals with her.
“I moved to Chicago in eighth grade and lived in Singapore before then,” Boden said. “My parents and family are from the northeast, so I spent a lot of summers over here and knew I wanted to go to college somewhere on the east coast.”
While Boden considered both University of Connecticut and University of Rhode Island, she knew UConn would be her home as soon as she learned about the MEM program.
“I have always been interested in business and engineering,” she said. “I like problem solving. I like design, but I like thinking about the consumer too.”
Initially she was considering an engineering undergraduate degree and a one year master’s degree in business following that, but when she discovered she could get an undergraduate degree that combined both business and engineering at once, she felt it was the perfect fit.
Spring Break her senior year in high school, she toured UConn and paid her deposit the next day.
“It was maybe a little spur of the moment,” she said, “but it felt like the right decision. I wasn’t stressed about college applications, which is not my normal personality, but I had good grades, test scores and a bunch of activities. I just knew there wasn’t a bad choice because I was interested in both programs.”
Boden says she is fortunate that even though she is far from family, she has close relatives not too far away. She also keeps in touch with her family with FaceTime and says she is fortunate her parents book her plane tickets to come home a few times a year.
“I know I am going to see them in a few weeks which is great,” Boden said.
Boden said her parents also grew up in the northeast, so she was familiar with the culture here already and that it felt familiar, like home.
“I really like the northeast. It is really pretty and the states are smaller so you can travel around, take trips into New York City, take trains or drive other places. It is just much more convenient,” Boden continued. “I will probably stay in the East Coast to work, if I stay in the U.S., but ideally I would like to get a job internationally – probably something related to design, specifically wearable design.”
Boden said she is looking forward to a career related to design, specifically wearable design, and focus on sustainability and how the design interacts with the wearer. She explained this could mean anything from a prosthetic, diabetes technology or an apple watch.
“I enjoy the people aspect of creating something. I want to understand who is using it, what they are using it for, what the company goals are,” she said. “As a young person I want to think about designs that are useful and aren’t going to harm our planet even more.”
She explained that in high school she had the chance to take engineering classes and she did her capstone course with Project Lead the Way. “There was a girl who was born with only part of one of her arms. It stopped at her elbow, but she wanted to play the recorder so she needed both hands. We wanted to design a prosthetic for her that would help her achieve her goal, but also would be something she was proud to wear,” Boden said. “We made these adaptable pieces that connected to a bracelet. She was a little girl and wouldn’t want to wear something boring and gray, so we gave her pink and purple and sparkles and her favorite dog.”
MEM Junior, Jonathan Varga, joined MEM the spring of his sophomore year after entering UConn as an ACES student; however, he always knew he would choose Management and Engineering for Manufacturing (MEM) as his major. Graduating valedictorian of his high school, Harvard H. Ellis Technical High School in Danielson, Connecticut, Varga knew he wanted to work in manufacturing and used the unique opportunity that technical high school provided him to prepare him for a degree program.
While at Ellis Tech, Varga studied Precision Machining Technology and gained critical manufacturing machining experience while still a high school student.
The Precision Machining Technology track at Ellis Technical High School prepares students for immediate employment, earning industry credentials and preparing students for entry into the workforce, apprenticeship programs or admission into a two- or four-year college. Students take academic courses as well as career and technical courses in rotating cycles. As a result, Varga gained an enormous amount of hands-on technical experience that most other high school students do not have.
At Ellis Tech students have the opportunity to start working in a manufacturing precision matching role while still in high school. When Varga was 16, he began his experience in manufacturing at Westminster Tool in Plainfield, Connecticut. There, he learned the ropes of the industry while he was in 10th grade at Ellis Tech.
In this role at Westminster Tool, he worked with a mentor and had the opportunity to express interest in learning new things, work with engineers and machinists, and gain more practical manufacturing experience. Varga started as a CNC machinist and got experience in the toolmaking, molding, and engineering departments, while learning more about many machining and manufacturing processes.
Even though he knew he wanted to pursue manufacturing as a career, and was prepared to enter the workforce right out of high school, he was confident that he wanted to go to college. When he graduated top of his class he was offered scholarships at several universities, including University of Connecticut. In the end, UConn’s MEM program, with the unique opportunity to learn both the business and engineering side of manufacturing made it an easy choice for him to attend UConn.
While UConn and MEM don’t see too many graduates from technical high schools, it is clear that students from manufacturing and machining technical programs are well prepared and capable of succeeding in an Engineering program like MEM.
Dr. Craig Calvert, assistant professor in residence in Operations and Information Management, and co-director of the Management and Engineering for Manufacturing program sees this as a positive opportunity for Connecticut manufacturing.
“It is exciting to see that there are dedicated programs like this at the lower educational levels,” Calvert said. “It exposes kids to opportunities that they might not have in a traditional education. Connecticut has a strong manufacturing base with United Technologies and General Dynamics along with all the small businesses that support these larger corporations. Jon is positioned to succeed at any of these and make a big impact upon graduation.”
Varga explains that some courses were very familiar to him, such as Introduction to Manufacturing Systems and the related lab, “I came in ahead of the game in processes,” he said. “Courses like MEM 2211 and 2212 were easy for me since I already had so much experience working with CNC and plastic injection molding. However, I am still challenged in other courses, in topics that require a lot of technical writing or advanced math.”
Varga still works for Westminster Tool while he is an excellent performing student at UConn. He has built a good working relationship with the management there and really enjoys the work. “In the future I plan to stay in the manufacturing industry, in the medical or defense sectors. The level of challenging work in those fields really interests me.”
Varga says he would love to see more technical high school students consider degrees in Engineering or majors like MEM. “A lot of technical high school graduates don’t really think about getting a 4-year degree after graduating, because they don’t see how valuable their existing skills can be when transferred to a degree, but with a program like MEM your technical skills and management ability can really be taken to the next level.”
Management and Engineering for Manufacturing is a four year undergraduate degree program at the University of Connecticut. It is a joint degree between the School of Business and the School of Engineering. MEM students take courses to meet criteria in both schools, developing management skills and engineering skills for today’s technical industries. MEM graduates work in fields such as design engineering, manufacturing engineering, continuous improvement engineering, quality control engineering, project management, supply chain management, and logistics and operations management, as well as countless others.