Students and families engage their curiosity at CSU’s Engineering Exploration Day

Candid photo of a student leading a tour in an engineering teaching laboratory
The Walter Scott Jr. College of Engineering welcomes prospective students for Engineering Exploration Day. February 19, 2022.

The pungent smell of the machine shop stood out to Dallas Brooks on Engineering Exploration Day.

Along with his wife Juli and daughter Audrey, Brooks toured engineering labs and chatted with faculty and students at the February 19 event. The family, from Peyton, Colorado, was especially drawn to CSU’s hands-on approach and the oily scent of machines at work in the Engineering Manufacturing Education Center or EMEC.

Engaging all the senses helps learning, Dallas Brooks said. “Even the smell of the machine room, it’s a different sense when you’re in there.”

The Brooks family was among the 600 people who registered for the first fully in-person Engineering Exploration Day in more than two years. High school juniors and seniors, transfer students and families learned about life as a college student at CSU, including coursework, research opportunities, residence hall life and student clubs.

Karan Venayagamoorthy, new to his role as Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs, stood beaming in the middle of the packed Lory Student Center ballroom that Saturday morning.

“I see excitement – this is exciting for us as a college,” Venayagamoorthy said.

While a majority of participants were from Colorado, the first family he met was from St. Louis, Missouri. Students came from 20 states, from Massachusetts to Washington.

Kara Gaiser from Portland, Oregon, heard about CSU’s engineering programs from a school counselor. As president of her high school aerospace club, she had heard about the significant aerospace industry here. “Colorado has a lot of aerospace,” she said during a break with her dad, Kurt.

Greeley West High School brought a busload of 19 students from the AVID program, a college preparatory program for historically underrepresented students in STEM. Lea Sanford, a social studies teacher, said she volunteered to bring the students because there was so much interest.

Greeley West junior Emily Lopez has always loved Fort Collins because of the mountains, and was excited to be on a college campus.

“CSU brings a welcoming sense to someone who comes here for the first time,” Lopez said. “I’ve been looking more into elementary education, but exploring engineering, therapy and nursing. It’s hard to know what you want to be when you grow up.”

She attended a presentation on chemical and biological engineering and later environmental engineering. “I just loved how the presenter was able to show real-life situations and how students are able to collaborate in teamwork and being able to work together to find solutions,” she said.

Megan Zupancic, a senior at Liberty Commons in Fort Collins interested in biomedical engineering, echoed Lopez’s sentiments.

“I’m really excited, and it’s exciting to me to see all the projects,” Zupancic said. “You can change the world.”

Dean David McLean welcomed students to the event with remarks about the high demand for engineers in Colorado. He also emphasized the opportunities for students to participate in research as undergraduates.

“Our faculty are conducting research on climate change, drought, air quality, clean energy, human health and the pandemic,” he told participants. “There are opportunities for students to get in a lab as undergraduates that helps them learn more about the exciting problems that engineers work on. We provide those opportunities even in your first year here. Our faculty and staff are here to help you be successful.”

The research labs impressed Nolan Kelley and his dad, Tim, who have visited Colorado many times on ski trips from their home in Springfield, Illinois. Even more exciting to them was a 30-minute chance encounter with Steve Johnson, undergraduate labs manager in mechanical engineering.

“Everybody was good, but he probably sold the program,” Tim Kelley said.

Johnson said he told them, “When you’re at another school, make sure to ask, ‘Do I get to do that as an undergrad?’ when they show you cool stuff. Here, we intentionally blur those lines and get undergrads into research and projects wherever we can.”

As for the odor of the machinery escaping the machine shop?

“We use cutting oils for lubricants when machining. Some of it burns off so there’s a little bit of a ‘smoky’ smell in manufacturing operations,” Johnson said. “We tend to consider it the smell of machining, sweat and learning.”