Voc-Tech student enhances engineering skills

WESTFIELD – Megan Ilnicky, a junior at Westfield Vocational Technical High School, took some advice from her guidance counselor and ran with it… all the way to Smith College in Northampton.
Ilnicky, a student in the Manufacturing Technology program at Westfield Vocational Technical High School, spent four weeks in July at the college’s Summer Science and Engineering Program (SSEP). The annual program is for young women (high school-aged, grades 9 through 12) “with strong interests in science, engineering and medicine.” Approximately 100 girls from all over the country and abroad (hailing from Japan, China, and the Caribbean Islands, among other countries) participated in hands-on activities with Smith College faculty.
“I really love engineering,” Ilnicky said. “And this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I really wanted to go.”
Following an application process earlier this year, she was accepted to the program in May. However, the $5,000 fee to participate was initially a hurdle. But with a little help from Clement Fucci, chairman of Westfield Vocational’s Manufacturing Technology department, everything came together. Fucci sent an email to a number of local and regional businesses, explaining Ilnicky’s plight, in an effort to garner financial assistance. Several responded, Ilnicky said. Among them: Brian Iserman, president of Whip City Tool & Die Corp., Bart A. Aslin, CEO of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), and Sandra Lajewski, a Westfield Vocational alum. With generous donations covering most of the costs, Ilnicky’s family was able to make up the remaining balance.
The four-week program focused on Robotics and Food Chemistry.
Ilnicky started with a Robotics course for the first two weeks, that she said was essentially “Lego based.” Each student was given a building kit and Lego blocks to perform assigned projects. During the second week, students were divided into pairs and allowed the freedom to create their own projects. Ilnicky and her partner brainstormed, she said, developing the idea to create two robots, based on soccer. One of the robots was a player on the field, while the other was a goalie – the first robot player was programmed to run down the field with a ball and kick a goal, at which time the robot goalie “ran away.”
The second two weeks of SSEP centered around Food Chemicals. Ilnicky said this was based in basic chemistry, including compounds and elements. During these two weeks, students learned things such how to extract vitamin C from fruits, and the different chemicals that exist in foods.
“[SSEP] was really great,” Ilnicky said. “I learned a lot.”
This program, coupled with Ilnicky’s current schooling in areas that include manufacturing and CAD (computer-aided design) at Westfield Vocational, are helping drive her toward her future career goal: to be a mechanical engineer.
“Megan [Ilnicky] is a very bright student,” Fucci said. “I have no doubt she will be able to handle an engineering career path.”

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