GE opens its doors to math mentees
October 25, 2011
Within walking distance in Minden are an elementary school and a state-of-the-art factory.
Minden Elementary, on Baler Street, has a sixth-grade advanced mathematics class with about 22 students. Down the street, GE Energy Measurement & Controls Solutions, on Bently Parkway, uses advanced mathematics in the production of monitoring hardware worth about $750 million a year, or roughly $2 million a day.
The two institutions recently crossed paths. GE Engineering Manager Mel Maalouf gave his sixth-grade math mentees a tour of the 230,000-square-foot facility just east of the school.
“We have an interest developing technical expertise in the Valley,” Maalouf said. “From an industry standpoint, we see a shortage of people in the engineering domain, so we’re doing what we can to stimulate interest, while also giving back to the community and rewarding these students for doing well. All these kids show the aptitude and interest.”
It’s the second year Maalouf has led a handful of GE Volunteers in teaching the advanced mathematics class at Minden Elementary, which meets weekly and focuses on real-world applications, from gear kits to energy conversion. In total it’s the sixth year of the program, also known as “Math Mentos” due to a past experiment involving the volatile candy.
On Oct. 17, with the proper security clearance, students got to see the Willy Wonka factory of high-tech manufacturing. Carts, tables, machines and assembly-lines offered endless arrays of circuit boards, resistors, cables, transducers and probes – all used in monitoring the high-stakes production of electricity and oil and gas.
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“We take a machine the size of this building and make sure it vibrates less than a hair’s width,” Maalouf said. “We take very powerful machines and make sure they don’t vibrate too much.”
“I always say we provide healthcare for big machines,” added GE Community Relations Specialist Holly Spiers.
Maalouf said GE monitoring products, including the Bently Nevada line, save lives in some of the most dangerous industries in the world. The kind of machinery needed to generate huge amounts of energy can quickly get out of control unless properly monitored, he said.
“Every time you turn on a light or put gas in your tank, say thank you to Bently Nevada,” he said.
In the back of the factory, students encountered the Thermotron, a HALT (Highly Accelerated Life Tester) chamber with full shake, bake and freezing capabilities. Engineers use the machine to test their product in extreme and stressful conditions.
“We make sure our product can survive where we put it,” Maalouf said.
Students also got to see the plant’s two diesel generators, each the size of a bus, which are used in the event of a power shortage. Of course, the machines are hooked up to the latest monitoring technology.
“At $2 million a day we don’t want to shut down the plant,” Maalouf said. “We’ve got to be careful.”
Upstairs, students found the lighter side of production – an employee gym, cafeteria and adventure room. The latter was full of skis, kayaks and camping gear, among other items, available for employees on any given weekend.
“Happy employees are typically more productive,” Maalouf said.
Sixth-grader Sophia Cui, 11, was impressed by the tour.
“I thought the green-boards were cool,” she said.
Sophia said her father is an engineer, and she’s thinking about becoming a surgeon.
“This can help me do better later on in life,” she said of the GE-MES partnership. “A lot of careers need math.”