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Exercise in inefficiency leads to experience in engineering

By Bradley West '13
November 21, 2012

As a member of St. Olaf College's 2012 Rube Goldberg team, Michael Paradis '13 helped create a contraption that used 191 steps simply to pop one balloon.

Ironically, this exercise in inefficiency provided Paradis with skills that have served him well throughout his mechanical engineering internship at Honeywell International, which manufactures everything from home thermostats to air traffic control computer systems.

"It's kind of funny that my experiences building a machine designed to perform a very simple task in the most inefficient way possible with a bunch of crazy friends would prove indispensable as a mechanical engineering intern at Honeywell," Paradis says.

Paradis, who is majoring in mathematics and physics at St. Olaf, began interning at Honeywell this summer. When the summer ended, he was given the chance to extend his internship into the school year. So this semester he's working part-time on engineering projects while also getting academic credit for the experience.

Throughout the summer Paradis helped fix design flaws in Honeywell's residential air duct systems by designing and performing mechanical tests on the existing systems. These tests helped show exactly how the air duct systems could be improved in future designs. 

Members of St. Olaf College's 2012 Rube Goldberg team — including Michael Paradis '13, far right — pose with faculty advisor Jason Engbrecht, associate professor of physics (holding trophy), shortly after winning this year's national championship. St. Olaf has earned two first-place finishes and a second-place finish since it began competing in the engineering competition in 2009.

Beyond making these engineering tests, Paradis also collaborated with a number of employees working in nearly every stage of the manufacturing process. 

"I acted mainly as an intermediary between senior engineers, machinists, electricians, factory workers, and many other Honeywell employees from both Golden Valley, Minnesota, and Tianjin, China, to construct testing environments, equipment, and procedures," Paradis explains. 

Working on the Rube Goldberg machine was probably the best training Paradis had for this internship, but his classes and labs in the Physics Department also helped prepare him for this hands-on engineering work. And, of course, many classes outside of his majors have given him the skills necessary to succeed at a place like Honeywell.

"Although it's a cliché to say this," Paradis says, "I found it very true that the broader skills of versatility and creativity learned on the Hill are just as important as the more specialized skills."

This fall Paradis is continuing to work with residential air duct systems, but this specific project has been moved from Minnesota to Tianjin, China, which has provided even more learning experiences.

"Although the communication and the time barrier can be a struggle at times," Paradis says, "it is a great experience to see the inner workings a multinational company like Honeywell."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or vanderve@stolaf.edu.