Dorene Data has to tell her students to “aim for the moon, not for Mars” so as to not let project goals veer too far from attainable.
But that’s not to say the Illinois Valley Community College students’ projects won’t take them there in the future.
The students are prepping for the college’s annual Making Industry Meaningful in College Fair.
And as technology has improved over the 23 years of the program’s existence, so too have the products.
“They blow us away every year,” Data said. “They come in with so much technology and we could not possibly think of these things.”
Students from different educational backgrounds work together in groups called “companies” to design, prototype, manufacture and then sell to consumers at IVCC. Data said the program gives students real-world experience working with a variety of departments.
For the most part, the projects from the design stage to completion is up to the students.
“We stand back, hands off, and of course we’re here to steer them in the right direction and sometimes we have to rein them in,” she added.
The students are limited only to the tools inside the college, which has rapidly expanded since the program’s inception including 3-D printing and plasma cutters. The program also sees donations of supplies to products from local businesses.
Data recalled the program’s earliest projects remained in the design phase, but slowly progressed to the products costing a few bucks. Students today have access to enough technology to develop full-fledged products.
The products and real-world experiences have served previous IVCC students well with some going on to apply their skills and associate degrees in the field and then later return to the program to share their stories with students.
“When they’re in the middle of (the program) it’s grueling, so they’re not always happy, but when they come back they always say it’s the best thing that ever happened to them,” Data said.
Nathan Kitzman Jr., from Ransom, and DJ Piper, from Princeton, are looking forward to finally sharing their product LitSoundz with students, faculty and interested community members.
The LED lamp and speaker connect with Bluetooth and a mobile app to sync its pulse with the music playing from the speaker.
The duo wanted a design different than what was typical of modern lamps and took inspiration from a lotus flower.
“We were looking at different things on Pinterest and we saw this lotus lamp based on the lotus flower and I was also looking at these random light bulbs,” Piper said. “I just thought, ‘What can we do to make this cooler.’ ”
The pair said the unique design helps it stand out and also allows them to sell it cheaper than similar lamps.
The Can Handle
A group of students next to them were looking over the final design of The Can Handle.
Ben Ross, of Mendota, said the idea was to create an alternative for the common koozies, which become “moldy and nasty.”
“We have the alternative right here. Keeps your can cold and your hand warm and dry,” Ross said.
The handle has an ergonomic design and is based on the design of brass knuckles.
Ross had a patent on the original design and the group will have two version available, one with a closed grip for smaller hands and an open grip for larger hands.
Lani Derossett, of Streator, said she’s been sharing news of the product among her friends have received great feedback and enthusiasm.
D’Mareae’ Miller, of Peru, said the design is sturdy and is designed to keep the can in place despite shaking.
Lewis Habben, of Ottawa, was able to miniaturize a small fire tornado to create a “portable fireplace.”
Jade Goff, of Ottawa, was on hand to help him set up the device that when sparked creates a swirling, tower of flame in an enclosed container.
Habben said he’s been interested in the idea for a while.
“I like tornadoes and we’re in the Midwest. It’s a cultural thing,” he said.
Habben explained that it operates similarly to a chimney in that a long column of heated air rises up and as air enters the container at an angle it fuels the fire.
A lot of trial and error was required before the final product operated as expected.
Star Wars themed chess table
Mckennon Escatel stood by one of the larger pieces developed this year.
His product was a large, Star Wars-themed chess table and students have been seeking it out.
Escatel had just finished playing some IVCC students that have heard of the chess table and wanted to see it.
“It’s gotten some buzz,” Escatel said with a smile.
He said he’s played chess since high school and wanted to create something that involved the game. He designed the idea of creating a metal chess table out of the image of the Millennium Falcon from the movie as well as chairs with logos on them. Pieces were made up of Star Wars characters and the stand of the table is made to look like a Tie Fighter spacecraft.
Escatel said he’s learned a lot about time management as well as the process of manufacturing something made out of metal.
Last, but not least, is the marketing company, which reached out to local businesses to drum up interest in supporting the fair.
“A lot of the businesses came in like champions,” said Doris Dunn, of Ottawa.
Dunn said a number of businesses and organizations donated gift certificates and specialty baskets to the event that will be given away and raffled off.
Kathy Keisler, of Bureau, said they also made it a point to reach out to local media to get the word out about the event beyond students and faculty.
They also networked with the college’s graphic design students to prepare marketing information to be placed around the campus.
The pair believed work had been successful so far and hope to see an increased turnout at this year’s fair.