All Posts

  • STEM mentor builds steel structures and lifelong connections

    Wanti Muchtar tagged along to construction sites starting at 5 years old, following her contractor father as he directed engineers in their Indonesian town. “Count the number of bricks to the top of the building,” he would say, giving his daughter her first engineering challenges. Muchtar looked on in awe as different materials united to form towering structures.

    “When I was young, I thought it was really cool because you could build things from scratch,” she said. “I started to learn how the building process works. It’s fascinating.”

    Counting bricks gave way to designing efficient, effective machinery and testing a variety of materials as a senior metallurgical engineer at Vermeer in Pella, where she has worked since 2011. Metallurgical engineers separate metals from their ores and adapt their shapes and properties to suit a variety of structures.

    Global experiences guide Muchtar from Indonesia to Iowa

    Muchtar’s path to Pella took a global route rooted in mentorship. After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Indonesia, the island country’s lone institution for metallurgical engineering, Muchtar worked for two years as a technical support engineer at a steel manufacturing company before realizing she wanted to pursue a graduate degree.

    After all, new materials and building techniques emerge frequently in her field, providing new opportunities to redefine the maker mindset. She quit her job, moved to Tokyo and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in metallurgical engineering.

    Muchtar’s specialty is adapting steel to build better structures, but metallurgical engineers work with a variety of materials — and we’ll need more in the future.

    “You have polymers, you have ceramics, a lot of materials,” she said. “In the future, we’ll need a lot more materials scientists in different fields, especially in building and making things.”

    Mentorship enriches engineering career

    Inspiring the next generation of engineers is about more than inviting women and girls to build amazing structures. It’s also about building up young women through mentorship. Muchtar is a mentor through Vermeer’s Women in Manufacturing group and is involved with SCI’s Girls in Science Initiative. Mentorship is a lifelong commitment for Muchtar.

    While she studied in Tokyo, Muchtar saw a promising high school student start to fall behind in her STEM classes.

    “When young women are struggling with STEM education, they can start to think, ‘I don’t think I can do this,’” she said.

    Muchtar supported the young woman throughout her studies. Later, she asked Muchtar for her recommendation to a Ph.D. program and completed her doctoral degree.

    Whether she’s working with fellow engineers at Vermeer or future engineers at SCI’s Girls in Science Festival, Muchtar works to encourage young women at every stage of STEM discovery.

    “Helping aspiring STEM professionals is an important role,” she said. “You want to share your time and look at these girls and ask, ‘What can I do for them?’”

  • STEM in DSM: Students develop SCI app and a new relationship with technology

    We absentmindedly tap, touch and swipe screens every day, expecting they’ll perform the desired task without considering the intricate code that informs every action. Three Des Moines Christian School students rewired their relationship with mobile technology this semester, thanks to the 2015 statewide HyperStream Club challenge: a “Design Your Visit to SCI” app for Android devices.

    “I learned how we communicate with our devices. If I click this button, my phone is going to do this. If I tap here, it’s going to shut down an app,” said senior Thierry Habinshuti, 18. “I’m actually telling my phone what to do. It’s amazing. It’s amazing to communicate with technology and tell it what to do.”

    When the Technology Association of Iowa announced this fall’s statewide HyperStream challenge, Habinshuti and DMCS juniors K. Plagge and Catherine Gardino teamed up on the project.

    “We’ve never done app development in HyperStream. I’ve done cyber-defense. They’ve done multimedia,” Plagge, 17, said. “Together, we have the skills, but we knew it would be a challenge.”

    The team plugged into MIT’s App Inventor software, which introduces users to programming and app creation through drag-and-drop building blocks. After weeks of brainstorming ideas, making lists and watching tutorials, Plagge, Gardino and Habinshuti turned to the best teacher of all — experience.

    “We decided to stop watching the tutorials and go inside the project,” Habinshuti said.

    Each student took ownership of different tasks, trouble-shooting problems as a team along the way. Tasked with linking the app user’s age, interests and duration of visit into one cohesive SCI experience, the project’s complex logic proved the No. 1 obstacle.

    “We spent a lot of time thinking about how everything is connected,” Habinshuti said.

    Despite the challenge of weaving together layers of data, the students’ diverse skills and tech interests created a dynamic club environment.

    “It’s fun when all our minds are working together,” Gardino said.

    Each of those minds has big plans for the future. Gardino, 17, isn’t sure what she’s going to pursue after high school but enjoys expanding her tech know-how through HyperStream.

    Plagge plans to go into a medical field but said the programming skills gained in the club will help her no matter her career choice.

    Habinshuti is interested in engineering or architecture, and HyperStream has given him a glimpse of how everyday technology functions in extraordinary, often hidden ways.

    “Everything uses technology,” Habinshuti said. “Everything has a code. Even though I’m interested in doing engineering or architecture, I’m going to need coding skills to see how things work.”

    Students from HyperStream clubs across the state will submit their final “Design Your Visit to SCI” apps this Friday, January 1. A panel of judges will select the winning team, and the selected app will be available for Android devices on the Google Play store.

    Whether or not they win the contest, Habinshuti, Plagge and Gardino have experienced the real-world side of software engineering, complete with a resume piece and the skills to communicate with a team and with technology beyond the classroom.

    “It’s critical to know how to communicate a coding language with objects,” Habinshuti said. “I believe this will help me and my classmates in the future.”