Overheard at YES! Expo

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Michigan Tech hit Detroit with a bang last week at the third YES! Expo to be held at Ford Field.

The festivities started out Wednesday with the buzz of preparation—forklifts clattering about with lumber, bottled water, and 30-gallon bags of popcorn; people setting up exhibits and food venues; white-shirted cleaners working the seats.

The preparation gave way Thursday to the clamor of lively youth resounding through the building.

What do 57 businesses, 24 colleges and universities, and nearly 20,000 middle- and high-school students have in common?

One speaker summed it up, and he struck a familiar tune to Tech people. “Imagine the future,” he told the youngsters.

We overheard others.

“I’m like a kid in a candy shop,” said a 12-year-old kid.

Ford Field is a handsome facility, but I’m amazed the roof doesn’t fall down, and say so to Pete Cattelino, Michigan Tech’s point man at the expo. He responded: “That’s the point—‘Wow, how did they build this?’ That’s engineering.”

Dan Jaroshewich was Ford Field’s point man for this doings. He said the expo was the largest of about 25 non-sports events held annually at the facility.

Jennifer Allman ’96, of Chrysler, says she grew up “never limited” by her gender. She hopes to inspire young women that they can succeed too. She says the auto industry is getting “more woman-friendly” for both engineers and customers—from a place to put a purse in a car to recruiting truck engineers. She recalled Tech fondly, even the winters. “They bond you. It’s like boot camp. You’re in the club.”

Susan Underhill of Toyota brought a Tech co-op student with her. She likes the program because it exposes students to practical experience, corporate philosophy and the management team. She added, “Co-op students have a very good chance of getting hired.” Echoing Chrysler’s Allman, she says opportunities for women are “quite open.” The expo, she says, “is a great opportunity to give kids an idea of what they might be. Kids can make informed choices.”

Stacie Tong works for Faurecia, an international auto supplier headquartered in France. She calls YES! Expo “a terrific event” and she shows off auto parts, like instrument panels, with the idea of impressing youngsters with “all the thought, study and science” that go into vehicles and components.

What’s the secret to success? Jeff Paxhia of Kellogg jests, “Nobody will turn you away from a meeting if you come with cookies.”

All 15 public universities were represented, plus nine others. Tech’s exhibits stood out for their interactive component. Most other schools had admissions literature and maybe a vehicle on display. Lynda Heinonen, student life, summed up Tech’s presence simply: “We’re engineers. We build things.”

Tech’s Dallas Smolarek, mechanical engineering, had this message for students stopping at the Aerospace Enterprise booth: “It’s a difficult school, but it challenges you and makes you a better person.”

Katie Armstrong of the US Forest Service wanted to make urban youngsters aware of the national forest system, which she described as “a jewel of this country,” as well as city parks. She said there is a beast called “nature deficit disorder.” It has been demonstrated, she said, that no connection to nature hinders concentration and performance in school.

NASA had an exhibit where they took photos of youngsters, imaged them into a spaceflight suit, and handed out postcards with the pictures—“so they keep us in mind,” a spokesman said.

Keynote speaker Steve Squyres, the lead scientist on the two Mars robotic rovers, gave the students a lesson in teamwork. He said it took 4,000 people four years to design, build and land the two vehicles on Mars. He described the landing as “a controlled crash” that involved huge parachutes and air bags. Once they hit the planet, the vehicles unfolded like a moon flower with wheels. “Make a better one,” Squyres exhorted the youth.

A Detroit teacher said she was “very impressed” with the expo. She said her students are committed, relish a challenge, are well motivated, and have a good work ethic. “I have a lot of respect for them. They’re not perfect. They’re kids. And that’s okay.”

A Grand Rapids teacher said that he liked expo as much as his students. He visited the exhibits to get new ideas for class projects and activities.

Sixth-grader Alan Word wants to work with computers, but has bigger aspirations. “I want to be a person to help out.”

Many students thought the expo was “awesome,” as well as “wicked,” “cool,” “tight,” and “sweet.”

The point of it all? One eighth-grader summed it up. “Pay attention in school.”

A mother from Saginaw visited Tech’s exhibits. “I thought your people were excellent,” she said. She has a son in a Lower Michigan university and wants him to transfer to Tech to study science. “I wasn't aware of Michigan Tech,” she says. “Now I'm aware.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.