When Lucas Hall and Dane Rape signed up for Ames Laboratory’s Community College Internship (CCI) program through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Workforce Development Program, they hoped to just pick up a few skills that would help them transition into their respective mechanical engineering degree programs. The actual experience was beyond their wildest dreams and firmly set them on the path to careers in mechanical engineering.
Rape, a student from Somerset Community College in Somerset, Ky., was mentored by Ames Lab Engineering Services engineer Terry Herrman. Hall, a student at Des Moines Area Community College (Boone campus) and a machinist in the Iowa National Guard, worked more closely with Ames Lab machinists Charles Burg and Bruce Spire.
“I’d worked with AutoCad software, but I’d never really designed anything,” Rape said. “When I got here, Terry gave me the opportunity to really learn what goes into the design process. Probably the biggest hurdle I faced was that I didn’t know what hardware was (commercially) available or the techniques involved in producing a finished product.”
Once Rape completed a design, Hall often then worked to fabricate the piece. Herrman said the learning curve was a little steeper for Hall, given the various pieces of equipment he needed to learn to operate and requisite safety training involved with each machine.
“I’d done some machining, but never to the precision tolerances required for building research equipment,” Hall said. “Bruce and Charlie are masters, and I learned so much from them. I also learned the hard way the importance of doing it right the first time … it’s definitely precision over speed.”
The two also worked together so that Hall understood the engineering requirements for a particular part and that Rape, likewise, realized the demands his design placed on the machinists charged with fabricating his creation.
“I really wanted to expose them to the entire design process,” Herrman said. “You need to listen carefully to what the researcher – the customer in our case – is asking for. Collaboration is also very important, to exchange ideas so you can develop the best solution. Sometimes engineers are so focused on a particular path that we don’t explore other options.”
As a first-time mentor for the CCI program, Herrman was worried that he wouldn’t have enough different projects to keep the two busy throughout the 10-week summer program. He added that he wanted variety not only in the types of projects, but also in the materials and techniques used to create the necessary parts.
“It was fun having them here, and we’ll most definitely sign up for the program again,” Herrman said, “and I could easily see the program expand to other areas of the Lab. It’s a great introduction to not only mechanical engineering and materials science, but also gives students exposure to the technical aspects of what takes place at a research facility.”
Ames Lab education program director Steve Karsjen echoed that sentiment, particularly since this was the first time the Lab’s CCI program has included students with a non-scientific, technical/vocational background.
“CCI provides a wonderful opportunity for those students by exposing them to possibilities they may never have considered before,” Karsjen said. “Skilled technical support is a crucial aspect of any research project and it’s vital that we provide that training in addition to training the next generation of scientists for DOE’s national labs.”
If Rape’s endorsement is any indication, the program is a definite success.
“It was real, on-the-job training and it was amazing to see a finished part and be able to say, ‘I designed that,’” he said. “I’m so appreciative to Terry for all he taught me … I feel like I should’ve have been paying him.”