Engineering students produce biodegradable ornaments for Staff Senate fundraiser

From left, Marissa Blair, Parker Arrington, Natalie Broom, Alison Joseph, Matthew Snuggs and George Hickein pose with this year’s Staff Senate Christmas ornament.

It wasn’t long after an initial meeting with engineering students from Western Carolina University’s Rapid Center that past chair of the Staff Senate, Natalie Broom, noticed the students huddled up around the Alumni Tower, sketching preliminary drawings of a design for the 2019 Christmas ornament.

For the second year in a row, the Staff Senate turned to WCU engineering students to design and produce the ornaments, which are sold as a fundraiser for the senate’s scholarship fund that benefits the children and other family members of staff members attending WCU.

“The ornament turned out amazing,” Broom said. “It exceeded all of my expectations. This year the group of students were eager, ambitious, excited. You could just see the excitement of the group. To me, it was an amazing experience.”

The ornament is an oval-shaped loop made from lauan wood with “Western Carolina University” inscribed at the top and “2019” at the bottom. Inside the loop is a 3-D replica of the Alumni Tower.

“Community members and employees, they love to have something that’s student-produced and produced on the campus,” said this year’s senate chair Alison Joseph. “We used to just order them out of a catalog. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to utilize a local resource. It’s exciting, honestly, what the students are able to produce here.”

Two things the Staff Senate wanted the students to incorporate into the ornament were the Alumni Tower, with this year being the 30th anniversary of the university’s prominent landmark, and this year’s campus theme – sustainability and the environment.

George Hickein, a senior engineering technology major from Bozeman, Montana, was responsible for production and fabrication of the wooden loops, a job that allowed him to learn how to use a laser cutter and choose the wood material.

“I got to learn a couple of new skills that I didn’t think I’d be able to learn, or use in my career,” Hickein said. “I really got a sense of satisfaction from helping out the university, and especially the kids who are going to be impacted by the results of our project.”

Marissa Blair, a junior engineering technology major from Denver, North Carolina, did the 3-D modeling for the tower. The tower is made from a corn-based plastic called PLA, making the entire ornament biodegradable, which aligns it with the campus theme. It is available in both purple and gold.

“It was really exciting,” Blair said. “It was definitely challenging figuring out how I wanted to model the clock tower. I ended up bringing in an actual photo of the tower and drew on top of it.”

The project was led by junior Parker Arrington, a Sylva native majoring in engineering with a mechanical concentration. Arrington was assisted by senior Matthew Snuggs, an engineering technology major from Greensboro.

“We put a lot of effort into making sure they were all of the highest quality,” Arrington said. “They’re all perfectly unique. There’s slight differences from the type of production we do with the laser cutter and our 3-D printer. There might be one speck of wood that might be burnt on one that isn’t quite as burnt on someone else’s.”

Snuggs assisted Arrington with the post-processing, which included cleaning up the towers after they were heat treated, and boxing the ornaments.

The senate ordered 300 ornaments. They will go on sale Saturday, Sept. 28, at Mountain Heritage Day for $10 each.