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Engineering students enjoy Chicago educational trip

Learners visited Northwestern University and the Museum of Science and Industry, also making connections at South Elgin High School ahead of a potential future collaboration

Coleg Menai engineering students recently enjoyed an educational trip to Chicago.

Learners experienced life on a submarine at the Museum of Science and Industry, sat in on a university freshman class, and toured local companies.

They also learned about the effects of climate change, had a go on a human-sized hamster wheel, and enjoyed American sports in the famous Lincoln Park.

The trip was for Level 3 engineering students, who were accompanied by lecturers Bryn Jones and Geraint Rowlands.

It was organised in conjunction with Matt Erbach, a manufacturing and engineering teacher at South Elgin High School in Illinois, who worked with Bryn in presenting a computer-aided design lecture at an international conference in Las Vegas last year.

The plan is for Coleg Menai and South Elgin High School to work together on projects in the future, introducing students to global collaboration.

First on the trip’s itinerary was an open-top bus tour, taking in the architecture of Chicago before travelling along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Bryn said: “We had a good understanding of why Chicago is called the windy city at this point! It was super cold in the west of the city on the Lake Michigan shoreline.”

After the bus tour, they visited Millennium Park to see the famous sculpture Cloud Gate, known as ‘The Bean’.

On the second day of the trip, the students visited Northwestern University, where they were given a tour of the engineering workshops before joining a class.

“We received a fantastic welcome from staff and students at the Ford building at Northwestern University,” said Bryn. “The campus itself is beautiful with some amazing buildings surrounding the area.

“The day started with a tour of their workshops in which they had senior student members taking us around and giving us some insight from their perspective.

“They gave us a deep dive into their set-ups, courses and extracurricular activities. The group also sat in on a freshman class which went really well.”

After the university visit, they headed north to Wilmette to visit Dilys Rana, a recent president of the Welsh Cambrian Society of Chicago. Dilys, who moved from Flintshire to Chicago 50 years ago, took the group to see the architecture of a local Baha house of worship before welcoming them back to her home.

Bryn said: “Dilys had kindly set up a makeshift ping-pong table in her basement and organised takeout deep pan pizza for the whole group. She truly went above and beyond.

“She will be coming back to Wales in July and it would be great for us to greet her in the same way. She couldn't have made the group feel any more welcome.”

The following day, the group visited Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Here they tried the human-sized hamster wheel, had a go on a jet simulator which turned 360 degrees, and took the James Bond tour which included seeing the Lotus Esprit submarine car from ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’.

They also witnessed chicks hatching in the ‘Life’ section, and boarded a U-boat captured by the US Navy during the Second World War.

Bryn said: “We booked the group on a tour for them to experience what it would have been like to live on a U-boat for up to three months at a time, which was a special highlight.

“We ended the museum tour with the ‘Extreme Ice’ exhibition, which highlights the effects of climate change on glaciers around the world. The group set themselves an interesting challenge - who could keep their hands on a 'glacier' the longest.”

On the Sunday, the students went on a boat tour which gave “a great perspective of the city, its infrastructure and buildings” before taking in some American culture as they watched the Chicago White Sox lose to the Cincinnati Reds. Inspired by their experience, later on the learners played baseball at Lincoln Park near their hostel, where they also played American football and basketball during their downtime in the evenings.

On the final day, the group headed to South Elgin High School for a ‘manufacturing breakfast’, where they met representatives of local engineering and manufacturing firms, and were given a tour of the high-tech equipment used by students at the school. After leaving the school, they also visited local companies.

“The idea of the trip was for the students to gain insight into manufacturing companies on a global scale,” said Bryn. “We saw how America does things in industry and how their education system works, which enhances that global perspective.

“We had the chance to see things that we can work on, things that we can work together on, and hopefully there will be collaboration projects from this so our students will be able to work with their students from September onwards.”

Bryn said the plan is for learners from Coleg Menai, the USA and Germany to work together on manufacturing projects.

“We want to create a collaborative project, and part of the reason why we went to Chicago was to build that connection between Coleg Menai engineering and South Elgin High School manufacturing provision,” he added.

“There’s also a company in Germany called Claus Engineering which is an apprenticeship provider, and the idea is that we make parts here, in Germany and in America, and they have to fit together.

“It could be something simple to start with, like a pen. But it’s a global collaboration, and it gives our students that perspective on working together across different countries that could help them in their future careers.”

Want to learn more about the exciting world of engineering with Grŵp Llandrillo Menai? Find out more about our courses here.