Heather Zaccagnini Engages Students with Real-World Applications in Manufacturing

MCC Applied Technologies co-chair Heather Zaccagnini and her students

MCC Applied Technologies co-chair Heather Zaccagnini and her students discuss production processes that could be used to mass produce their egg armor containers in her Manufacturing Processes (IMT 102) class.

With a background in industrial engineering, MCC Applied Technologies co-chair Heather Zaccagnini knows about manufacturing processes and understands how products are made. She also enjoys working with people, so she combines her talents as a manufacturing technology and management instructor at MCC, where she has taught for the past 15 years.

Before coming to MCC, she worked for a Woodstock company, where she trained others on a regular basis. She decided that teaching full-time may be more fulfilling, so she called MCC to see what was available and an instructor job happened to be open.

“I love school, learning new things and meeting new students,” she said.

She prepares students for high-skill jobs in high-demand areas of manufacturing technology.

“Manufacturing is a high-tech field. It’s not a dark dungeon anymore. Manufacturers need people who can problem-solve and trouble shoot,” she said.

To keep her students engaged in the material, Zaccagnini incorporates contemporary real world applications and problems, rather than just teaching from a textbook. One project is the egg drop competition, where students build containers that will protect a fresh egg when dropped from approximately 20 feet. By studying the properties of the materials selected for their containers, the students predict the results.  After testing, students analyze results and adjust material selection and design based on data collected.  To make the project fun and interesting, Heather always has an ultimate performance evaluation test.  In Fall 2013, this test involved catapulting the egg containers off the roof of E Building E.  The container that protected the egg and went the farthest won the competition.

 “The project is very active and engaging, allowing the students to use the material analysis tools we study all semester,” Zaccagnini said “We always have an audience watching the launching of the containers.”

She takes her students to as many manufacturing facilities as possible so students get a broad knowledge about the various types of manufacturers. This past fall semester, her class of 30 students toured nine manufacturing plants to see various processes, including forging, metal extrusion, plastics processes for health care and automotive, various machining operations and robotics applications. Following a site visit, students complete assignments relating to their most recent site visit and use online discussion boards to share information with each other. Students in her Manufacturing Processes class are majoring in different types of programs, including manufacturing management, robotics, engineering technology and CNC machining.

Zaccagnini said the coolest thing about industrial engineering is having the ability to make people’s jobs better, how to break down a design for a product so it can be produced by the operators who work in the plant.

If there’s one thing that students take away from classes, Zaccagnini said she hopes it’s applying what they learned.

 “I want them to know how to find information when they need it and know how to use it,” she said. “It’s rewarding seeing the students have confidence in their skills.”


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