The pH level of a large bin of water had been raised with Borax, causing paint poured on the water’s surface to float and “try to get away,” said Jay Stencel of South Central College.

When engineering student Jonny Roemhildt dipped the neck of his guitar in, the paint was attracted to it immediately, swirling down the length of the wood and creating a killer design for what would soon become Roemhildt’s electric guitar.

Just in that small component of this new engineering design class at SCC — the one in which students make their own customized and fully operational electric guitars — chemistry, physics and even art come into play.

That’s exactly what Stencel, engineering instructor, had in mind when he decided to offer the course at SCC, which was inspired by The National Science Foundation STEM Guitar Project and also by SCC’s digital fabrication lab.

 With high-tech machines and technology — such as vinyl and laser cutters, a 3D printer, and a CNC router computer-controlled shaping machine — there’s plenty of room for imagination in the engineering program these days.

Stencel wanted to give students a multi-faceted, hands-on project that would bring engineering concepts to life in a fun and engaging way.

“(The fab lab) allows them to construct anything they think about,” he said. “They’re no longer afraid to tear into anything.”

The students begin with a basic guitar body shape in a block of wood, and then they customize the shape, sand it, paint it, install all the guitar components, make and install the electrical component, and they also have to intonate the instrument (ensure pitch accuracy).

The project incorporates math, machining, woodworking, a number of engineering concepts, computer work, music and art.

“It’s a project that stimulates the engineers, to remind them why they’re here,” Stencel said.

With about 18 students in class, Stencel said as they learn the concepts, they all help each other and collaborate.

Roemhildt, a civil engineering major, said he’s finding the class really relaxing. He and his classmates are taking many difficult classes, including calculus and physics, and the laid-back environment in the fab lab is a welcomed addition.

That’s not to say he’s not learning a lot and employing STEM concepts. He is, he said. He’s just doing it in a creative way.

Roemhildt said he won’t be playing the guitar himself when it’s finished.

“I can’t even use a microphone,” he said of his musical abilities.

But his sister’s learning how, and he’s sure she’ll get some use out of it.

Angelica Altamirano, the only female in the class, said she also planned to give her guitar to a sibling who plays.

Altamirano plays the flute, but she didn’t imagine that would help her when it comes time to string and tune her guitar.

A future engineering class will teach students how to build amps to go along with their guitars. There will also be an introductory guitar-playing class offered in another department.

The Engineering Foundations associate’s degree program is new to SCC, having begun last fall. The program is designed to transfer to a four-year bachelor’s program in engineering.

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