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The Making of Engineering EXPO 1997

Charles Hwang and Jonas Zahn are EXPO '97 co-chairs. Together they organize and delegate tasks to the committees that help shape the event. Zahn puts in nearly 40 hours per week working toward his vision of an EXPO double the size of previous EXPOs. He attributes his hard work toward that goal to his experience at EXPO '93. He says it changed his life.

"It was my first time on a university campus. I was a senior in high school. My eyes were opened to a lot of engineering and design. I saw the formula car. I was in the Rube Goldberg contest. I was inspired to become an engineer," Zahn said. "I want to return that to someone. I want to inspire a couple dozen high school seniors the way I was."

Jonas Zahn

Jonas Zahn (large image)

After volunteering to run the soda fountain for a day at EXPO '95, mechanical engineering student Scott McKenzie was inspired to take a bigger responsibility for '97. McKenzie is chair of the finance committee that must find corporate sponsors to help fund EXPO and bring displays of equipment and technology.

On Engineers' Day 1996 in October, McKenzie, EXPO co-chair Jonas Zahn and Robot Triathlon chair Douglas Herman found themselves in suits and ties, mixing with the luminaries of the Industrial Liaison Council and other captains of industry. The team was there to land some sponsors. The college puts up the money for EXPO, and students must pay back the loan with the money made from ticket receipts, vending, ads and corporate sponsors.

"What we were doing didn't really hit me until the next day," McKenzie said. "But I had worked with some influential people during my co-op last semester and you realize that we're all human and that it's not as tough as you might think to approach someone like the director of operations development for Coca Cola. But it does seem like a big deal when you start talking money."

Weeks before Engineers' Day, the team started sending information about EXPO to potential contacts. McKenzie said that made it much easier to approach people.

They will have to approach a lot of people. EXPO '97 is planned to be an order of magnitude bigger than EXPO '95. Based on the popularity of the Robot Triathlon in '95, EXPO is renting the university's Field House for $12,000 and recruiting teams from other colleges to compete in a national robot competition with prizes totaling in excess of $15,000. The robot committee has received pledges of attendance from two other schools at this writing and has had inquiries from MIT and universities in Canada, Texas, Kentucky, Ohio and others. The committee is also talking to national media outlets about the possibility of coverage. In addition, the committee is working with faculty to create a one- or two-credit class called Robot 101. The class would help students put together robots and give them course credit for their time.

Unlike previous years when the robots were more like remote-controlled cars, the '97 competition will allow for more flexibility in design. The robots will joust in fields ranging from a "maze of confusion" to an obstacle course and "RoboBall," a robotic soccer game.

Douglas Herman

Douglas Herman (large image)

It would seem that the task of putting together an EXPO on the same scale as years past would be enough work for already time-poor students. Robot Triathlon committee chair Douglas Herman carries 21 credits toward an engineering mechanics degree. He works about five hours per week at a campus job, gets by on five hours of sleep a night and puts in 15 hours per week organizing the Robot Triathlon. It begs the question: Why push yourself so hard?

"I'm insane is what it comes down to," Herman said. "But I don't do all the work. I have a committee of four and they do a lot. Most of the people involved with EXPO are like this. We would rather have one overbooked, overworked volunteer who is committed than 10 people who aren't sure if they want to be involved. If you're committed, you make the time."

Herman said his commitments to Polygon Engineering Council and EXPO give him less time for his studies, but he's convinced the payback is greater than the sacrifice. In a recent job interview with Boeing Company, Herman says the interviewer asked a few questions about his grades but was really interested in Herman's involvement with EXPO, Polygon Engineering Council and other engineering extracurricular activities.

Mechanical and nuclear engineering student Mary Poupore feels much the same as Herman. Poupore has investigated the possibility of incorporating the Engineering Mall sculpture/fountain Máquina into EXPO '97 as the focal point of art and engineering. In '95, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers arranged for dancers to perform with the fountain. Something similar may happen in '97. To that end, Poupore spent more than 36 hours over a four day period interviewing dozens of people via telephone and e-mail in order to ascertain the feasibility of working with the fountain at all. She summarized her findings about lime and mineral deposits, plugged nozzles, solenoids, valves, controllers, programming, sound systems, choreography, remote keyboards, Internet connections and bollards into a report so that the committee could figure out where to begin.

Poupore, like other EXPO volunteers, carries a full credit load, has a job and gets by on little sleep.

"It's really rewarding to work on something like this where you get results and pride from a job well done," Poupore said. "It's like the BRAINSTORM contest. I was proud as the only woman involved to be on the same level as others on teams. It looks good on a resume and it looks good to people who come to interview. I am more recognizable. If I did not participate my grades might be better, but a better gradepoint wouldn't get me all of that."

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