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Engineers' Day helps alumni reflect, look ahead


Engineers' Day 1997

Former College of Engineering students - many from decades past - filled an auditorium in Engineering Hall Nov. 7 to catch up on old times and learn about how the college is preparing for the 21st Century. The gathering marked the 50th annual celebration of Engineers' Day, held in conjunction with UW-Madison's homecoming.

Dean John G. Bollinger updated the group on many of the college's recent accomplishments. His list included a stronger focus on the freshman engineering experience, near completion of the financing for the Engineering Centers Building, a new "customized" engineering master's degree, increased emphasis on distance higher education, and successful efforts to attract major research funding.

Four speakers from the College also presented seminars on timely topics:

Professor Fernando L. Alvarado, of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, addressed the issue of deregulation of the utility industry, outlining both the pros and cons.

He noted that the electric power industry has specific characteristics that set it apart from other industries which have been deregulated. For example, he said, the consequences of failure are widespread and immediate, and electric power touches "everybody and everything."

The business of deregulation brings many additional factors into the electric power field, said Alvarado. Issues the nation will need to address include the pricing of reserves, new ways of marketing electricity, and risk management for "the most volatile commodity on earth."

Alvarado predicts that ultimately the price of electricity will go down, but not necessarily right away since "the cost of reorganization is large."

John Archambault, director of the college's co-op and internship program, spoke on "Talented Students for Hire."

The co-op/internship program has grown dramatically in the past several years, he reported. Close to 1,000 work terms are being completed per year, approximately double the figure from five years ago. Additionally, about 800 students have registered for on-campus interviews this semester, and participating students earned close to $1.2 million in fiscal year 1996-97.

The co-op/internship program is a partnership, benefiting both students and employers, said Archambault. He cited studies showing co-op and internship participants having a higher retention rate in engineering programs. Also, he said, many employers end up hiring the people who initially work for them as students.

Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Tim A. Osswald gave an overview of "Plastics in the Automobile: Past, Present and Future."

Through a series of pictures of cars and trucks, he demonstrated how engineers have been incorporating plastics into windshields and automobile bodies since the mid-1920s.

Many of the problems that plagued these early automobile manufacturers continue to be a problem today, Osswald noted. For example, eliminating "warpage" in plastic components is still a goal of the industry.

One of the strongest reasons supporting the use of plastics in cars and trucks is weight reduction, said Osswald. Body panels made of steel account for 55 percent of a vehicle's weight and glass windows take up an additional 10 percent.

The final seminar was presented by undergraduates Jessica Rannow and Andrew Kroll, who organized a six-day LeaderShape conference in Madison this past summer for engineering and business students. Both had participated in a regional conference in 1996, at which time they solidified their goal of bringing the program to Madison.

Rannow and Kroll described the innovative, hands-on leadership experience, then called forward three additional groups of participants to discuss how they have accomplished their LeaderShape goals.

So that the audience would better understand the style of the program, members were divided into groups and asked to construct a tower from 14 index cards, 25 paper clips, three straws, two balloons, a paper bag, a pencil and a piece of paper. The exercise was designed to enhance teamwork skills.

In the evening, a special dinner and awards presentation were held at the new Monona Terrace Convention Center. Thirteen distinguished alumni, as well as four faculty and staff members, were honored for their contributions to the field of engineering.