Event fosters hands-on connection between students and industry; Chippewa Falls team takes top prize
By Abbey Goers, UW Stout
Two days, six regional high school teams, one problem to solve.
To celebrate the maker mindset, University of Wisconsin-Stout hosted Make48, a long-running 48-hour competition, in which students invent physical prototypes to solve real-world problems.
Teams from Altoona, Chippewa Falls and Menomonie, as well as Amery, Neillsville and St. Croix Central, converged on UW-Stout from Oct. 27-29, to compete for a cash prize and scholarships to UW-Stout. The challenge sponsor was 3M Menomonie, which tasked the teams with addressing rainwater conservation.
Working side by side with their coaches – regional engineers and mentoring teachers – the teams raced to make a supply run to Ace Hardware in Menomonie, vet their inventions with intellectual property attorneys and produce a working prototype in UW-Stout's Fab Lab maker space. Expert tool technicians and UW-Stout students offered additional support in the lab.
The Fab Lab, one of nearly 300 labs and studios on UW-Stout’s campus, offers innovators, creatives and makers access to 3D printers, laser cutters and leading-edge digital fabrication tools. It is open to students and community and industry partners to design, prototype and build almost anything they can imagine.
Along with their finished prototypes, teams produced sell sheets and one-minute marketing videos to pitch their big ideas to a panel of judges.
In addition to winning $2,000 for their first-place design, Elleana Kenney, Brett Schaeffer and Megan Schutte of Chippewa Falls High School’s Boards 'n Bots team were each awarded a $1,000 scholarship to UW-Stout. The team was coached by Everett Sarauer, a process engineer with TTM Technologies in Chippewa Falls, which sponsored Boards n’ Bots.
“They were excellent, and I really didn’t have to do much coaching at all,” Sarauer said. “I had to keep reminding myself that they were high school students, as they were so professional. The biggest roadblock was just coming up with an idea, as we all are overthinkers. Once we had an idea, we dove right in.”
Other competing teams and their sponsors were:
Altoona Makers, from Altoona High School: Aaron Nujtxeeg Xiong, Kaylee Belisle and Logan Kelley, coached by Jeff Ballentine, a technology education teacher. Sponsored by Presto.
Menomonie Mustangs, from Menomonie High School: Kajsiab Xiong, Enzo Parent, Jack Andresen and Pajci Xiong. Sponsored by Andersen Windows.
Jeff Smart, from Amery High School: Brodrick Malon, Carter Kurtzhals and Alex Kegley, coached by Mike Rose, a business teacher. Sponsored by Fastenal.
Weekend Warriors, from Neillsville High School: Armin De La Cruz, Cameron Waters and Zachary Magnus, coached by Mark Brommer, a science teacher. Sponsored by OEM Fabrication.
Wenzel's Workers, from St. Croix Central High School in Hammond: Tyce Todd, Gavin Hawkins, Toby Lindstrom and Brady Jackman. Sponsored by Derrick Builders.
Each student on the five other teams received a $350 scholarship to UW-Stout for competing.
In addition to 3M as the challenge sponsor, regional corporate sponsors were Xcel, Momentum West and Ace Hardware in Menomonie.
“3M is committed to supporting young people and fostering their interest in STEM. Make48 lines up well with this,” said 3M Menomonie Plant Manager Janice Neitzel. “We want to have a positive impact on the community where we live and work. We partner with many organizations in the area to do this, and this was another way to engage with UW-Stout.”
Neitzel met with the teams before Make48 kicked off and served as a panel judge.
“The Fab Lab was a perfect location for this event, providing the teams with many options to leverage as they worked through the competition,” she said. “I was amazed with how creative the inventions were for only having 48 hours to take their idea and build a prototype. The presentations were extremely well done and made judging a very difficult job.”
Connecting students with industry professionals
UW-Stout students and instructors played big roles as Fab Lab tool technicians and CAD-focused assistants, helping the teams bring their ideas to life.
Mike Cropp is a management engineer at UW-Stout and Fab Lab specialist. “The Fab Lab is focused on training students how to use digital fabrication tools to build a solution to their problem. Using technology allows them to create a higher quality output in a shorter amount of time or to test the viability of a design quickly,” he said.
“Connecting industry with students allows the students to see the processes used within industry and allows industry professionals to share their career experiences with the next generation of workers,” he added.
Sarauer enjoyed working in the Fab Lab with the tool technicians as they were willing and optimistic to help. “It was a great place to make prototypes on the fly. I’d love to do it again someday. I’m looking forward to seeing my team get into real industry. They will do great at whatever they choose to do,” he said.
Madi Klaja, a second-year packaging major from Hudson, is a Fab Lab tool technician and helped teams operate any equipment necessary to create their prototypes. Matthew Miller, an industrial and product design junior from Cameron, assisted teams with 3D rendering and SolidWorks computer-aided design and engineering software.
They believe that helping the Make48 teams and collaborating with industry professionals will help them in their future internships or careers.
“The competition gave me an opportunity to talk about my technical skills and demonstrate my networking capabilities as well,” Klaja said.
“I was able to utilize skills I learned in class, network and apply it to helping high school students make their products,” Miller added.
The UW-Stout competition was Make48’s first Career Pathways Event. UW-Stout’s involvement was a “testament to the university’s dedication to fostering innovation, applied ‘hands-on learning’ and collaboration to address real-world problems” said Seth Hudson, executive director of UW-Stout Corporate Relations and Economic Engagement.
UW-Stout, Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, supports career-focused applied learning and research through real-world experiences and offers engagement opportunities with its business and industry partners. Graduates have a 99.4% employment rate within six months of graduation.