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Something special from Waupun: Warrior Fab Lab co-champs in statewide contest

May 18, 2019

WAUPUN — When visitors and dignitaries of all sorts visit Wisconsin, they are invariably presented with the usual gifts — cheese, cheese-related items and perhaps a warm brat.

When it comes to less perishable items, however, the choices are less obvious.

That is why the Wisconsin Economic Development Council sponsored a contest challenging all of the fabrication laboratories in Wisconsin schools to come up with something more permanent in the form of a beverage coaster. According to WEDC, such an item is easily packed in a suitcase, and is a lasting souvenir that represents not only resourcefulness and beauty, but something that will remind guests of the state’s youths and their talents.

Fabrication labs, or fab labs as they are commonly called, teach students modern manufacturing skills and techniques using computer-controlled tools and design.

A team of three girls working in the recently opened Waupun Innovation Center took the top honor. Gracie Lenz, Amelia Dobbratz and Rachel White were presented with a plaque Monday afternoon in the Waupun Junior/Senior High School Professional Development room as part of celebrations of Wisconsin Fab Lab Day around the state.

“The girls brainstormed for days and sketched out ideas and thought of buzz words that represented the six areas of industry,” Warrior Innovation Center Design Manager Dawn Disch said. “The girls then decided to break the clusters into two groups: manufacturing/research and nature.”

The manufacturing/research coaster has three gears: one made of copper representing manufacturing, a silver gear representing aerospace and bronze gear representing food and beverage production.

Biohealth is represented with a DNA strand and molecule.

The nature coaster includes wind turbines, a wave representing the Great Lakes, corn and a farm.

Disch said it was important to use Wisconsin-made materials as well. The ⅛-inch wood was obtained from Ocooch Hardwoods in Viola. The resin was ordered from Amazon and the cork is from Menards, an Eau Claire-based company.

Designs were drawn in Adobe Illustrator. A Universal Laser was used to etch the designs onto the wood. The wood coaster was then placed into a silicon mold and colored areas with epoxy resin. Students filled each design by hand. The next day, they poured a clear resin on top to seal everything.

Students used the laser to cut an outline of the state, which is applied to the back of the coaster with contact cement.

Emcee and radio sports announcer Steve Winterhack acknowledged the people who made the completion of the Warrior Innovation Center possible including Quad Graphics, Mayville Engineering Company and MPB Builders; along with city dignitaries, school board members, school staff members, fab lab students and members of the community.

WEDC Secretary and CEO Mark Hogan presented the team with a Made in Wisconsin plaque.

“The idea for coasters came out of need,” Hogan said. “Whenever WEDC or the governor are on a trade venture or traveling abroad, it’s a sign of mutual respect to provide our hosts or our guests a type of a gift. We want to make sure that the gift is special and represents the pride that we have in the state of Wisconsin. These gifts have always been a challenge because they can become very repetitive. We launched the fab lab competition in November and reached out to the 42 (school) districts that have fab labs.”

According to Hogan, each was asked to submit a design that represents the state’s positive economic culture and other attributes. Each was to be made with materials representing the state and to provide hands-on, real-world learning experiences for high school students.

There were 10 entries, four finalists, and two winners — the team in Waupun and another from the Northland Pines School District in Eagle River.

“The items will now be produced in larger quantities and presented by state officials to foreign delegations visiting Wisconsin, as well as to business and government leaders on global trade ventures to be led by WEDC’s international business development team,” Hogan said.

“Taking part in this competition has given me a greater appreciation for what our innovation centers are capable of, and for the skills it teaches students, including me,” Dobbratz said. “Being part of Warrior Fabrication has shown me the behind-the-scenes aspects of what it is like to run a successful business and all the skills that are required. It is an environment where you can see life skills being applied and shaped and I find myself learning from these experiences on a daily basis.”

Dobbratz thanked the community for passing the 2018 referendum that made the Warrior Innovation Center possible.

“With the large amount of support from our school board and continued encouragement from our teachers and administrators, the fab lab has already grown tremendously,” Lenz said. She thanked ag and tech ed instructor Ryan Seichter for urging them to get involved in the program, as well as teachers Heidi Gerrits and Doug and Dawn Disch, and her father Steve, the high school principal, for driving them to the competition in Marshfield.

“We would also like to thank our parents,” White said. “I’d like to thank them for all of their support and for understating if we had to stay late in the Warrior Innovation Center to get something done. I knew nothing going into these classes, but as I started to learn the more I got interested in it. The Warrior Innovation Center has made me a better version of myself.”

The students in the fab lab will produce a total of 50 coasters by June 8.

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