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Students engineer success with 3-D printer and robotic arm

Students at Glendale Community College met a major milestone this week when they unveiled a robotic arm and 3-D printer they spent months designing and building.

The projects are the first of their kind to be produced on campus by students who belong to the college's robotics academy.

Under Prof. Thomas Voden, the nine students, many with little experience in mechanical engineering, worked in teams to design, build and piece together various parts.

John Paul Lionel, 19, didn't have any experience in mechanical or software engineering beforehand.

"I walked in like everyone else not knowing anything about mechanical engineering except for theory," he said, adding later, "I walked in thinking, this project is probably not going to work."

In recent years, college educators are intent on expanding engineering programs to churn out graduates prepared to meet the industry's demands.

In the coming months, the college will begin to coordinate efforts with both Glendale and Burbank public schools so that middle school and high school students can design mechanical parts in their classrooms, sending the data electronically in order to have it produced by GCC students.

Tamara Talverdian, 21, designed and produced parts for the 3-D printer, learning first how to print products on the professional machines the campus houses.

Although the students' printer is built, it still needs additional mechanical tweaking before it can produce products.

But seeing an end to months of work and problem solving was more than enough for the students to celebrate Tuesday when they demonstrated the robotic arm in front of the college's top leaders.

In the fall, Talverdian, who was one of two women on the GCC team, will pursue mechanical engineering at Cal Poly Pomona.

"Now that more and more females are getting into engineering, it makes it easier because there are more females, and men are starting to realize this is the 21st century. We don't feel much discrimination, but obviously, there is that different dynamic," she said.

She and others were guided by mentors over the past year, including Richard Ohanian, an electrical engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and adjunct professor at Glendale Community College.

For Ohanian, the technical skills students picked up are as valuable as the way they learn how to communicate and collaborate with one another.

"I would recommend this class to anybody who wants to do engineering… We provide an opportunity for them to come in and fail. In my opinion, that's a really conducive environment for them to learn and not be afraid of failing. The important methodology here is active learning, and learning by trial and error."

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