Hands-on learning is at the heart of a UNI education, and that’s especially true for the industry-focused Department of Applied Engineering and Technical Management. But a special senior-level product design course gave students a unique opportunity to apply their skills.

In 2021, the UNI Foundation approached the department to produce one-of-a-kind commemorative brass handbells to recognize supporters of the university’s Our Tomorrow fundraising campaign while showcasing UNI students in the process. A total of 56 handbells were to be custom-cast in honor of new bells being added to the Campanile.

Matt Watson, ‘22, became the lead for the job, coordinating five separate teams with various roles ranging from bell design, casting and engraving to production of the wooden handles. It was a new type of leadership experience, Watson said, and it came with no shortage of challenges. But working as a student employee at John Deere gave him perspective. In conversations with his colleagues, he came to see the project as an “authentic experience” of what it’s like to work on an industry production job.

Watson was hired as a manufacturing engineer at John Deere Engine Works upon graduation. He looks back on his time at UNI with a new appreciation for faculty, especially when it comes to teaching concepts like 5S manufacturing and Industry 4.0.

The goal of faculty here is not to prepare us for everything that we’ll find after graduation … their goal is to introduce a broad range of concepts so that when you’re in industry and you run into them, they’re not brand new. I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve seen from UNI impacting my career after graduating.

Matt Watson
2022 UNI alum and manufacturing engineer, John Deere Engine Works
Student pours molten brass into the handbell molds

About the Bell Project

/ 34 students in the manufacturing engineering technology and graphic technology programs, logged 600+ hours to produce the bells

/ Each bell is composed of silicon brass

/ Wooden handles are made from reclaimed campus ash trees

/ Students used a variety of equipment, including the Haas TL-1 CNC lathe and Laguna CNC turner