Edwin L. Aguirre
Thirteen young teens from the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell recently toured North Campus as part of a college-readiness program that helps them better prepare for the transition from high school to college.
Called Diplomas to Degrees (D2D), the summer program provides the tools, resources and support the youngsters need to develop short- and long-term goals, explore universities and familiarize themselves with college life, secure financial assistance and foster supportive relationships with caring adults.
During the tour, the kids learned about the cutting-edge research being conducted at UMass Lowell’s Baseball Research Center
as well as the Nanofabrication Laboratory, the Materials Characterization Laboratory and the Plastics High-Bay Processing Laboratory at the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center (ETIC).
“It was a huge success,” says Thomas Ferraguto, director of the Nanofabrication Lab. “I couldn’t have been more proud of how my co-workers stepped up and presented the University’s research as accessible, fun and interesting.”
A Real Team Effort
“Everyone was excited about participating in the tour,” says Ferraguto. “Our vice provost for research, Julie Chen, gave her full support to the effort.”
Tom Hammond, the CFO of Align Credit Union who sits on the Boy and Girls Club’s board, and his marketing manager, Lauren Robinson, helped arrange for players from the Minor League Baseball team Lowell Spinners to accompany the kids to make the visit more fun and memorable, says Ferraguto.
“Tom and Lauren not only arranged for visits by Spinners players Miguel Rodriguez and Greg Larson, they also provided a pizza lunch for the kids,” he says. “Additionally, I reached out to Elaine Dalton in University Advancement who provided T-shirts for all our young guests.”
Ferraguto started off the tour by explaining what engineers and researchers do, and how they strive to make the quality of life and products better by developing new materials and new technology. He also stressed the importance of going to college.
At the Baseball Research Center, Patrick Drane
, the facility’s assistant director, got the kids and the players into discussing how baseball and science are intertwined. Drane also demonstrated the lab’s high-speed air cannon, which can fire baseballs up to 200 miles per hour to test the performance and durability of balls and bats used in the Little League, NCAA and Major League Baseball.
“Patrick provided all the kids with souvenir balls, which Miguel and Greg signed,” says Ferraguto.
In the Plastics High-Bay Processing Laboratory, plastics engineering Asst. Prof. Stephen Johnston
and his graduate students gave live demonstrations of the latest plastics equipment, including the Gloucester Engineering blown-film extrusion system.
“What was great was that Steve had the actual machinery running and made a number of plastic items the kids could take home with them,” says Ferraguto.
The group also went to Ferraguto’s Nanofabrication Lab, where he explained the importance of a clean room
in nanomanufacturing and scientific research. Since they couldn’t venture inside the ETIC’s clean rooms, he decided to have a race (out in the hallway) to see who could put on a clean suit the fastest.
“I got Greg from the Spinners and Thomas, one of the Boys Club guests, to race,” says Ferraguto. “It was fun watching two people of very different builds — Greg is 6 feet 8 inches tall while Thomas is about 5 feet high — put on clean suits for the very first time. Thomas kept his suit on the rest of the day — it was a lot of fun.”
Finally, Christopher Santeufemio of the Materials Characterization Lab demonstrated to the kids how a scanning electron microscope works.
“Chris showed them a number of common objects magnified 20,000 times,” says Ferraguto. “He is a Cub Scout leader so he knew just how to interact with kids.”
He adds: “We want to get youngsters excited about the possibilities if and when they go to college, so we’re planning to offer this tour again next summer.”