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Mechanica 2000 attracts prospective engineers to campus

It was Wednesday afternoon, the end of a busy three days on the Storrs campus for 24 Connecticut high school students. But Jocelyn Miller and Peter Vigeant, both juniors at Hartford's Bunnell High School, came alive when asked if they had enjoyed their visit.

"It was really cool. I learned a lot about mechanical engineering ..." Vigeant started, before being interrupted by Miller. "Stuff we never knew mechanical engineers did," she said.

"I really like the CAD (Computer Aided Design) program, Inventor, I think that was the software we used," Vigeant tried again.

"The guy who invented the vibration balancing techniques, they demonstrated it, it was great," broke in Miller, referring to Professor Nejat Olgac's patented resonance absorber device.

Miller and Vigeant were two of 24 students, representing 13 high schools, who were guests of the Department of Mechanical Engineering from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday, June 25, as part of the first Mechanica 2000, a recruitment initiative devised earlier this year by the department and coordinated and organized by associate professor of mechanical engineering Zbigniew Bzymek. The students who participated were selected through an exhaustive process that involved high school principals, guidance counselors and teachers. More than 350 requests were made for applications, and the high schools received about 300 completed forms.

Ultimately, the names of 25 students from across the state - sophomores, juniors, and seniors - were selected by the high school officials, based on the students' potential, their motivation, and their interests. Twenty-four attended: 16 boys and 8 girls.

During their visit, the students actively participated in the design and fabrication of a wax building block they assembled using computer-aided machining and desktop milling machines; used Computer Aided Design programs to create three-dimensional forms; visited dozens of other laboratories representing various engineering disciplines, the Institute of Materials Science, the Precision Manufacturing Center and the Environmental Research Center; and studied the results of this year's senior design projects, five of which resulted in applications for patents. The group also proposed solutions to a future senior design project.

They also had fun with each other, during lab tours and, in the evenings, during softball and volleyball games, movies, and laps in the Hawley Armory pool. So much so, in fact, that on the last morning most of the group was still awake and chatting at 4 a.m. in the North Campus residence hall they stayed in during the week.

"They bonded really well. I was very happy to see how well, and how fast, they became friends," said Marty Wood, associate head of mechanical engineering. Wood says the program is likely to continue next year, but with a new set of students.

"It worked out very well. It was good to get the high school counselors and principals involved, thinking about UConn, and the kids got to see parts of the campus they wouldn't see during a tour. Hopefully, they'll go back to their school now and talk about us, pass the word," Wood says.

And, of course, join the campus community. RAV