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Women Engineers Win Best Chapter, Best Team Project

by Alicia P. Gregory

The University of Kentucky chapter of the Society of Women Engineers was named the best chapter in the nation at the society's national conference in Houston last June. Members of the UK chapter also won the Boeing Team Tech Competition, in which a team of students works with a company to solve a real-life problem.

"The society gives these women an opportunity to develop leadership skills and learn to work effectively as a team," says Suzanne Scheff, advisor to the UK chapter. The chapter hosted the regional Society of Women Engineers conference in November. Approximately 110 members from chapters in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky attended the conference.

The UK chapter, with 120 women engineers, placed second to Cornell University in the national competition last year. The chapter has won best regional chapter five times-in 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998.

"One of the reasons I joined the society was to meet other girls in the program. It's hard when there are so few girls in some of the engineering classes," says Renee Lacy, a materials engineering major from Michigan. This is Lacy's second year in the society and she was a member of the Boeing competition team. "The society offers many different kinds of activities. I chose the Boeing Team Tech Competition because I could count it as job experience."

The eight-member UK team worked with Rexroth Mecman Pneumatics of Lexington. Rexroth makes valves, filters, regulators and other products for railcars.

"The part we worked on was part of a larger pneumatic valve that allows the railcar to unload coal through an opening at the bottom of the car while it's still moving," says Lacy. "You can switch it manually or electronically. It's about three inches by six inches and a spring controls the switch.

"What they were doing on the assembly line was putting the spring in and attaching a screw and nut, tightening it up to a certain height to fit into the box. The problem was, they were having to repeatedly tighten it, take it out, measure it, and put it back because it was either too small or too big."

So the team designed a wrench that would allow workers to size the spring with one try rather than several.

"Basically, what we did was put a lip on the wrench to restrict its action to the exact measurement they needed," Lacy says.

Angela Doherty, a chemical engineering major from Louisville who presented this project at the national conference, says, "This project let me see the power of a simple solution. This change saves a lot of time and won't cost the company much."

"The best thing about this experience for me was applying what I've learned in the classroom to a real problem. As a student you don't normally get to work with people in industry," Lacy says.

The Boeing competition was sponsored by the society, but participation wasn't restricted to women. The group included team leader Ann Thomas, Mary Stuart Burks, Melissa Clark, Bryan Conder, Angela Doherty, Kim Glenn, Renee Lacy, and Laura Thomas. Bill Young, a Center for Robotics and Manufacturing Systems engineer, was the team's technical advisor.

This is the fourth time University of Kentucky students have placed first in this competition.