Shop Managers Nationwide Gather to Focus on Student Safety

Duke hosts the first ever Student Machine Shop Manager Conference to facilitate networking and talking about best practices

By Ken Kingery

In April of 2013, an exemplary senior at Yale University named Michele Dufault was killed just weeks away from graduation while working late at night on her senior thesis in the school’s student machine shop. Steve Earp, manager of the Pratt School of Engineering Student Machine Shop at Duke University, wants to make sure such tragedies never happen again.

Earp spent the past year searching out the managers of student machine shops across the country and inviting them to a conference to network and talk about best practices. The conference took place at Duke from July 14-16, and hosted more than 60 student shop managers from coast to coast. It was the first of what Earp hopes will be a regularly held meeting.

“I think the conference was successful in providing a national collegiate forum to discuss best shop safety practices,” said Earp. “We considered ways to provide higher standards in safety accompanying academic excellence.”

Currently, student machine shops across the country have vastly different rules. Some require staff supervision while others are entirely student-run. Some have students simply drop off their projects so that staff members can complete the machine work for them, while others are open into the wee hours of the morning with no supervision.

The conference explored differences between shops, established ties for shop managers to seek advice from their peers, and started discussion about what Earp hopes will become a standard set of best practices to help protect students nationwide. Vendors were also present, demonstrating safety equipment and contributing updated information regarding national Federal Surplus offerings.

As a result of the conference, a network of communication was established providing an interactive Facebook group, Linked-In contacts, and shop equipment surveys. This will be beneficial in allowing members to access group support and troubleshoot issues that arise on a daily basis. Feedback from conference attendees was highly encouraging, and the group has already announced the Second Annual Student Shop Managers Conference, to be hosted by Georgia Tech in July 2016.

“I found it especially valuable to learn about the various models each shop implemented at their institution, and I will begin immediately to implement safety improvements,” said Todd Schweisinger, senior lecturer of mechanical engineering and coordinator of undergraduate laboratories at Clemson University. “Because of the conference, I now plan to explore the possibility of researching different models of shop operations and ultimately disseminating the results in scholarly journals.”

“Student shop managers will be able to draw from the wealth of knowledge that exists within the collegiate framework at a national level,” added Earp. “Promoting best practices will allow each manager to create a stable and cohesive working environment for students. The excitement generated by the conference has drawn together a new community of professionals desiring to achieve optimally safe working environments for students as they seek to prepare the rising generation of new engineers.”