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/
Students who come to University of Connecticut and choose the Management and Engineering for Manufacturing (MEM) major often ask if it is really possible to graduate in four years. It is known for being one of the most rigorous undergraduate programs anywhere with 138 required credits to graduate, a very structured curriculum of required courses and few electives. Students wonder if they will have time to do anything else. This year, Doga Takunyaci is proving that not only is it possible to graduate on time in four years with an MEM degree, but also to do so while playing varsity tennis for the Huskies.
Coming from Turkey, Takunyaci knew she would ultimately major in either Mechanical Engineering or MEM and UConn offered the best mix of scholarships and academic options after she spoke with athletic recruiters from many universities. As a competitive tennis player on Turkey’s national team, she had caught the eye of UConn Tennis for good reason and started as a UConn freshman in the ACES program when she was 19 years old.
“I began as an ACES exploratory major even though I knew I wanted to major in either ME or MEM, so I made sure to take the classes that were common to both majors and that way I didn’t get behind with the required classes,” she said.
Everyone at UConn and in the athletic department was so friendly, welcoming and helpful. While initially she was able to carefully choose her classes to not conflict with her very busy training schedule – six tennis practices per week plus three lift training days – she eventually had to negotiate her junior and senior schedules with her coaches.
“I saw that some MEM classes were always offered at the same time each semester so after a while I knew I would have to work with my coaches,” she said. “They were very supportive with adjusting my training times, and my instructors have also been supportive when I have to miss classes for matches.”
This fall Takunyaci is off season but still has away matches, such as one coming up at Army. These matches often take place over weekends including Fridays which demands she miss her Friday classes.
“I already talked with my professors and they are really understanding too,” she said. “Professor Cunha records all his lectures so I can watch them after and Professor Calvert said I will be missing guest speakers, which is a bummer, but there is nothing I can do about that.”
Decided MEM, it is challenging, requires a lot more credits, being a student athlete was challenging with the schedule. She had lifts three days a week and regular practices six days a week and matches on weekends which occasionally conflicts with Friday classes. Some classes conflict with classes and lifts so she had to adjust those. Most semesters we need 18 credits or more so she had to do some summer classes to catch up.
Being an international student athlete has not been without its challenges, Takunyaci notes, when asked about possible language struggles she may have faced in addition to her busy schedule. “It was more difficult the first year with English as my second language and it is getting better now. I take a second before I talk and sometimes it can be challenging in labs because I may not always know the terms or the names of the objects we are working on.” She insists it has gotten easier, but that her language would have also helped if she hadn’t had her American college experience interrupted by COVID. “Being home during COVID was definitely an interruption and hindered my language learning, but in some ways having the classes recorded was helpful because I could watch a lecture a few times if I didn’t understand a part,” she recalls.
Takunyaci encourages, “Being successful in MEM as a student athlete will really depend on the sport and on the coach and if they are really hard working and really passionate about going into engineering and want to learn more of the business side too then I totally recommend it.”
Although she was very determined to graduate in four years, with the MEM curriculum requiring about 18 credits per semester, she used summers to catch up and take a few classes, as well as gain more experience in an internship in a field she was interested in learning more about.
After she graduates she hopes to pursue either a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in something energy related. She would like to pursue a career in the energy industry.
“MEM majors have a lot of options when they graduate and that is one of the things I like about it,” she said. “When I was choosing my major I talked with my dad about it … he is a Mechanical Engineer in Turkey. We were talking about what he is using in his career and he told me his field requires skills from the business side that he needed to learn after he graduated.” Takunyaci considered a major in something like industrial engineering but found the UConn MEM program to be even broader with the business aspects.
Each year, the MEM Society welcomes a new executive board (E-board) who plan and lead the MEM Society for the year. This year’s new MEM Society E-Board Officers are:
Archana Velathapillai, President
Anne Lidsky, Vice President
Lauren Hart, Secretary, and
Emma Angelillo, Treasurer
Archana Vela is serving as the President for the MEM Society during the 2022-2023 academic year and served on the Executive Board last year as well. She is a senior from Avon, Connecticut, but also lived in Singapore and China for much of her childhood. She enjoys spending time with friends and hopes to go into either operations or project engineering. This summer she interned at Collins Aerospace as a project engineer in engine control systems. Her favorite ice cream flavor is Cookies and Cream.
Anna Lidsky is serving as the Vice President for the MEM Society during the 2022-2023 academic year. She is a junior from Newburyport, Massachusetts. She has two cats and a dog, and enjoys spending time with friends, going to the beach and snowboarding. This summer she interned as a Distribution Operations Intern at TJX, the parent company for TJMaxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods stores. She hopes to work in supply chain or process/manufacturing engineering, and plans to pursue a master’s degree in Business Analytics and Project Management through the 4+1 program partnership with MEM. Lidsky’s favorite ice cream is Cookie Dough.
Lauren Hart is serving as the Secretary for the MEM Society during the 2022-2023 academic year. Hart was born in London, England and came to University of Connecticut from Toronto, Canada. She is a junior in MEM and enjoys soccer, basketball, tennis, bike riding, and going to the beach. This summer, she worked at the Royal Bank of Canada as a data analyst intern, and she visited Cuba. She hopes to use her MEM degree in either consulting, banking or as an entrepreneur. Her favorite ice cream flavor is Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.
Emma Angelillo is serving as the Treasurer for the MEM Society during the 2022-2023 academic year. She is a junior from Southington, Connecticut. In her free time she enjoys painting, jewelry making, graphic design, spending time with her friends and going to the beach or a lake. An interesting fact about Emma is that she was named after the Friends’ character, Emma, who was Ross and Rachel’s baby because that episode aired while her mother was delivering her. Over the summer, Angelillo visited friends and traveled to Boston for the Yankees-Sox games and visited Cape Cod. She hopes work for a large medical device engineering company, such as Medtronic, perhaps in a project management role. Angelillo’s favorite ice cream flavor is Coffee Oreo.
The MEM Society welcomes new members each year and encourages MEM majors to fully participate. Meetings include hearing from MEM alumni, companies interested in recruiting MEM students for internships and careers, and social activities. For more information or to join, please visit: https://uconntact.uconn.edu/organization/memsociety
John Henry Breen, a Walpole, Massachusetts resident and University of Connecticut senior was awarded the Management and Engineering for Manufacturing Top Dog Award for 2022. This award is jointly selected by the MEM Society, co-directors and staff and awarded to the student who best represents and contributes to the MEM program.
Nominated students for this award are evaluated based on criteria such as willingness to help other MEM students, volunteering at open houses and other MEM events, participation in the MEM Society, their reputation for treating students, faculty and staff with respect, and his or her positive demeanor, good character and ability to be a role model for other MEM students. It’s a high bar worthy of the honor of Top Dog.
Last year, Breen was awarded the MEM Engagement Award for his outstanding support of the MEM Program, which never ceased during his final year at UConn as well.
Breen notably served as the MEM Lab Manager after a semester as the assistant lab manager, in which he showcased his leadership skills, positive attitude, eagerness to help others and passion for the MEM program. He also served as a TME Student Mentor as well as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for the School of Engineering. In addition, he was Secretary (2020-2021) and later Vice President (2021-2022) of the MEM Society. He could regularly be found volunteering for MEM events, offering academic assistance to his fellow students and MEM faculty and staff.
Last Summer, Breen also was hired as an Intern at Hollingsworth and Vose where he was able to apply statistical quality control and continuous improvement knowledge to accomplish the business goals.
Breen’s capstone Senior Design Project was with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center where he worked alongside student team members from various other Engineering fields.
Breen, who graduated May 2021 from UConn with his Bachelor of Science degree in Management and Engineering for Manufacturing from both the School of Business and the School of Engineering jointly, will be starting his career as a Rotational Development Program Associate at ASSA ABLOY.
In the fall of 2021, the supply chain crisis began to impact consumers and suddenly it became a term everyone was hearing. At the same time, Dr. Craig Calvert, Management and Engineering for Manufacturing (MEM) program co-Director and Assistant Professor-in-Residence for Operations and Information Management (OPIM) with the School of Business, was preparing to launch the first University of Connecticut course on supply chain management. After so much interest that fall, he also decided to offer a spring semester independent study on advanced supply chain management, during which his students are developing a board game to reinforce and teach supply chain concepts.
“Supply chains are dynamic and require constant adjustment and adaptation,” Dr. Calvert said. “When designing the supply chain management course I pulled from my years of professional and industry experience in supply chains along with speaking to other industry experts.”
Supply chain management is the process of managing the movement of goods and services from suppliers, as raw materials, and to end users, as finished goods in the most efficient and effective way. In the global economy, supply chains are becoming more complex and difficult to manage. This complexity has caused many of the supply chain shortages experienced during the COVID pandemic. As a result, supply chain management is a growing field, and more and more MEM graduates are being recruited for these roles each year due to their understanding of both the business and manufacturing aspects of supply chain management.
Introduction to Supply Chain Management Class
While many MEM students thought Intro to Supply Chain Management sounded like an interesting and different business elective to round out their MEM curriculum, it also has proven to have significant value for the students who have taken it, as well as those who continued and took the additional Supply Chain Management Independent Study with Dr. Calvert.
Luca Mastrogiacomo, MEM senior, notes that he took the class because he had really just learned the term supply chain and was interested to learn more. Now, he will be graduating with a job as the Supply Chain Coordinator of a small specialty ice cream company, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, in Brooklyn, NY.
“I didn’t have any experience with supply chain,” said Paige Lombardi, MEM senior. “I thought it would be a fun elective, but the way Dr. Calvert taught this course, I retained more than from any other class. I can already see how it will apply to my future career.”
Liz Downey, MEM senior, agreed, “Intro to Supply Chain Management was such a great class. Even though it was about supply chain, I have been able to apply what I learned to other classes this semester.” She continued, “Learning accounting and finance is obviously important, but supply chain would be a great benefit to everyone, as well.”
While the Intro to Supply Chain Management course offered a general overview of supply chain topics, students say the course was very practical and experiential. “It was not just theory,” Lombardi said. “It was like being in a real life situation, which really made it practical and applicable, and this is probably why I retained so much of what we learned.”
“It was also great working alongside the MIS students, which made up about half of the class,” Mastrogiacomo said. “It was interesting to see the different ways students who were more focused on business thought about things like manufacturing and gave us all a lot of insights into areas we don’t know as much about. It was generally just more representative of a real work environment where you’re working with people from all kinds of educational and experience backgrounds.”
Dr. Calvert explains. “The in-class activities were designed so that the MEM students and MIS students would learn about each other’s discipline. Sometimes I had the different majors work together and other times I had them intentionally intermingle. I had several MIS students who had never taken an MEM course, and this class was their only exposure to how a manufacturing person would approach a problem.”
Independent Study Course and the Game Project Emerges
The enthusiasm of the fall 2021 Intro to Supply Chain Management course was strong enough for Professor Calvert to offer an independent study section in the spring on the same topic. Five students enrolled, three of whom were from the MEM program and two from Management and Information Science (MIS) in the School of Business.
“I really enjoyed the first class and that increased my interest in the field so I wanted to take the independent study also.” Mastrogiacomo said. “I liked that there was a lot of opportunity for problem solving and that it is very cross functional. It touches every area of a company and has a huge impact on their success or failure.”
The independent study allowed the students to explore Supply Chain Management more deeply, to apply what they learned already, and to develop new teaching methods to help future students understand how the supply chain works.
Dr. Calvert intentionally designed the course to utilize inquiry-based learning and to let them find and answer what “wonders” students have. Similar to project based learning, this style of teaching focused on exploring answers. “I have five bright students so I wanted to approach this differently and so far the inquiry-based learning model has worked,” Calvert said. “It is exciting to see students get excited about learning and have fun with the process.”
The five students, all seniors, worked together to develop a game that will reinforce supply chain concepts, such as managing risks, rewards, and complicating factors.
The game board, which is loosely based on the game of LIFE, features landing points such as Risk, Rewards, Stop, Pay Day, and Neutrals points, as well as Knowledge Checks. While nothing may happen at the Neutral squares and when landing on Knowledge Checks students will have to answer questions from the Intro to Supply Chain Management course, Risks, Pay Days, and Stop Points are all familiar challenges or rewards that could happen in any supply chain scenario.
Lombardi explains, “Along the game, you have to keep stopping and there are lots of decisions to be made along the way that ultimately affect profit. The goal is to have the biggest profit, and your pay or rewards vary based on decisions you make regarding number of workers, their education levels, contracts you’ve made, etc. There are various risks and you have a chance to reevaluate your decisions at the stop points.”
Downey, Lombardi and Mastrogiacomo all agree that supply chain management is an important course for MEM students to take and that Dr. Calvert made this a unique and engaging course that will benefit them in any career.
“People hear the word and don’t really know what is involved,” Mastrogiacomo said. “It is a little different than what most people think MEM graduates end up doing, but it really touches on a lot of the areas that they do and the concepts are important to know about.”
It’s not unheard of for students to come from across the country or around the world to study at the University of Connecticut. It’s not uncommon for students to come these same great distances for the Management and Engineering for Manufacturing (MEM) program. However, it’s relatively rare that two youngsters who met 15 years ago in Girl Scouts in Singapore would both end up attending UConn as MEM majors from across the country and around the world.
Archana Velauthapillai and Alexa Boden, both MEM juniors, spent much of their childhood years in Singapore, attending the same school and Girl Scouts troop.
“We knew each other and did a lot of Girl Scouts activities together, but we weren’t really close at that time,” Alexa said.
They were friends, but didn’t really keep in touch when Alexa’s parents moved them to Chicago before 8th grade, and Archana’s family moved to China just a year later. They remained friends on social media, however, so when Archana saw that Alexa would be attending the University of Connecticut, she reached out to Alexa by private message in Instagram.
Archana, at the time, was living in China with her family when she decided to attend the University of Connecticut. She had assumed she would not know anyone there. Alexa, too, did not think any of her Chicago classmates would be attending a state university in Connecticut so she too had assumed she would not know anyone at UConn. So when the two women learned of each other’s plans they knew they had to meet up.
The women were both pretty surprised that they would know anyone at UConn at all, but even more surprised it would be a childhood friend from half a world away.
Alexa came to UConn planning to major in MEM as it blended the business and engineering aspects she loved of product design. Archana started off in Undecided Engineering, but within her first semester knew she wanted to change to MEM.
By the second semester of freshmen year, Archana and Alexa were registered for many of the same MEM classes and first found each other in MEM 1151, Introduction to Management and Engineering for Manufacturing.
Archana recalls, “I was new to the program and didn’t know anyone, but I walked in and saw Alexa sitting there, so I sat down right behind her.”
“We reconnected pretty fast after that class,” Alexa said, “and since then, we’ve done a lot of group projects together.”
As a 17-year-old in Short Hills, New Jersey, Taitel was feeling frustrated that he didn’t have many baseball recruiters looking his way. “I was a good player, but not the best, so I knew if I wanted to have a chance to play in college at all I needed to work on my swing,” Taitel recalls. That is why over the summer going from high school junior to high school senior, he decided to invent something to help improve his swing. “There really wasn’t a product out there that I could find that would help me train in hitting,” he said. “Just sheer hours and doing a lot of different things is what people usually relied on to improve their swing.”
After a few months of using his invention, his swing improved enough to turn the heads of some baseball recruiters at smaller colleges. “I was personally impressed with this bat because I had gotten so much better in such a short period of time,” he said. “That’s when I knew it could help other people too.”
During his senior year in high school as he was considering his college options, he recalled a conversation he had had with his sister a few years earlier. She had visited UConn and had told him about the Management and Engineering for Manufacturing program. While he was initially interested in Brown and Northeastern, he soon decided to attend University of Connecticut and says it was the best decision.
While he never did opt to play baseball for the Huskies, he never stopped working on the bat, and after a few years and about 75 iterations of the design, he launched The ProVelocity BatTM and began marketing it. He started by introducing the bat to coaches at prep schools, but they didn’t have much interest. Nonetheless, they connected with him with a recruiter in Tennessee who loved it. He had had his players use it for three weeks that summer and saw a 4 percent improvement in hitting, which was significant for that team. “While it wasn’t exactly scientific,” he said, “it was some great anecdotal data that we could use, and that word of mouth definitely helped get things going.”
Soon after, he was connected with a coach at the Tampa Bay Rays to whom he offered a discount to get them started. While the coach didn’t immediately take him up on that, he later went on to be a major league hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs, and at that point in 2021, he placed an order for 20 ProVelocityTM bats.
Coaches, players, and parents of young athletes are all raving about the improvements they’ve seen and how easy this bat is to implement in their training programs, according to reviews on the ProVelocityTM website.
After graduation, Taitel plans to continue to work on the ProVelocityTM business. “Right now, it is profitable,” he explained. “I used my bar mitzvah money to get it up and running, but now we are turning enough of a profit that I can afford to continue working this business, so I plan to do that for a few years at least.”
While Taitel manufactures some of the smaller bats in a room at his residence, the adult-sized bats, the 32-inch Standard Shaft and the 33-inch Extreme Impact, are both manufactured at a machine shop in New Jersey.
While he initially was just trying to improve his own swing, Taitel landed on an idea that may just change the face of baseball training, and with his education in Management and Engineering for Manufacturing, he has the tools he needs to grow this novel and exciting business venture.
The ProVelocity BatTM can be found at provelocitybat.com where three sizes of bats can be ordered, and interested parties can locate data from a variety of studies on hitting performance improvements.
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.”
Last month, Management and Engineering for Manufacturing and Operations and Information Management partnered with Unilever to bring students a Supply Chain Case Competition. Eleven teams of three students each competed to develop a plan to resolve a mock supply chain issue for Unilever’s brand Lipton and their green tea product.
Students were given a challenge with some background information, and two weeks to develop a comprehensive plan to solve the problem. In this case, the problem was procuring an organic green tea from a new supplier in Vietnam as the first organic green tea in the Lipton product range, and operating in line with the company’s guiding principles of safety, quality and operating efficiency. Students were also given Unilever company values of improving health and well-being, reducing environmental impact, and enhancing livelihoods, as well as references to the company’s sustainable living goals. The plans they suggested had to factor in these sometimes competing goals as they prepared and presented their strategy. Data on supply chain and sourcing, green tea facts, as well as product consumption and demand were also given to the teams to take into consideration.
Teams made their presentations in front of a panel of judges including faculty from the School of Business, the School of Engineering, and Unilever supply chain representatives. After their presentations, the judges were able to ask them questions to further clarify and challenge the students’ ideas.
Luca Mastrogiacomo, junior and a Management Engineering for Manufacturing major, says he really appreciated the opportunity to see how supply chain problems look in real world settings. “It showed why supply chain is important because of how interconnected it is with all areas of a business and how a supplier relationship is so much more than just transactional,” he said. “It was very fulfilling to me to be able to actually apply what I’ve been learning in class to a real business problem.”
The case competition served as part of the Supply Chain Management course taught by Dr. Craig Calvert. Students in the supply chain course were required to participate and provide a report following it for the class, while additional students joined from other engineering and business school majors because they were eager to showcase their critical business skills and win coveted scholarships associated with the first, second and third place winning teams.
The breadth of majors found among team members was also beneficial. Students said they found extra value in working with other students on a team beyond their own major. “It was fun because I was able to do it with some of my friends from the supply chain class,” said Paige Lombardi, Management and Engineering for Manufacturing senior, “…since Chloe is an MIS major and Liz and I are MEM majors, we were able to see how the two different majors interpreted the case differently. The case study was beneficial to me because it allowed me to use the knowledge from my internship experience as well as what I have learned in my supply chain class with Professor Calvert this semester and apply it to a real-world case study.”
Top Three Teams
First place was awarded to Team Blue, a team consisting of Cara Tran, Biomedical Engineering senior; Prabhas KC, Economics senior; and Alexander Kim, Finance senior.
Second place was award to team Supply Chain Reign including Elizabeth Downey, MEM senior; Paige Lombardi, MEM senior; and Chloe Sainsbury, MIS senior.
Third place was awarded to Andrew Warshavsky, MIS senior; Luca Mastrogiacomo, MEM senior; and Jacob Patterson, MEM senior.
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.