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CEDAR FALLS — It started with a project in an engineering class this fall.

Justin Witt, a senior at Cedar Falls High School, would devise a fix for a broken window blind. It was one of the fall projects offered to students enrolled in the Center for Advanced Professional Studies. A Cedar Falls Community Schools’ employee who was having trouble with the blinds at his home suggested the project.

Today, several months after creating the part, Witt is traveling to Middleton, Wis., with a group of school district staff and presenting his idea to Springs Window Fashions, the company that makes the customized Bali blinds that had malfunctioned.

“It’s exciting because it has to do with engineering,” he said of the trip to the Madison suburb. “I want to get into engineering (as a career). Really, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”

All Cedar Falls CAPS students work with people in the professional world to complete their projects. Classes meet outside of the high school. A number of Cedar Valley companies have signed on as partners in the effort along with the city of Cedar Falls and the University of Northern Iowa’s education department.

Usually, though, the partners are involved from the beginning. Kenton Swartley, the district’s community partnerships and STEM facilitator, brought his problem with a set of window blinds to the attention of CAPS staff.

Witt is one of about 30 students enrolled this semester in the CAPS program’s three “strands.” He is part of the technology and engineering strand, which meets daily at Viking Pump from 1:15 to 2:55 p.m. The program, which started a year ago, will enroll as many as 45 students when second semester starts later this month.

“I chose to do this project because it involved 3-D printing,” said Witt. He was introduced to the process of three-dimensional printing as a ninth-grader at Holmes Junior High School and now has two 3-D printers at home.

“I had two ideas,” he explained, when approaching the problem with the blinds. The first was to redesign the original component, a square plastic piece that is part of the mechanism to raise and lower the blinds.

He decided to go another direction: Design a sort of end cap that slips over the defunct part, holding it together. “Kind of like gluing it,” said Witt.

Within two weeks, he had produced the part, which is about 3/4-inch in diameter and a 1/4-inch high with a square opening in the top to attach a rod that is part of the mechanism. He thought it would be the easier of the two solutions.

“I think the most difficult thing was getting in contact with the company,” noted Witt. “That was always the end goal to contact them.”

He tried to get in touch with customer support online and by phone. He got an email after the phone call, but received little response. He even tried connecting with the company through Twitter and Facebook. But it was another social media platform and the help of his teacher that finally got the company’s attention.

“Linked In was the only way we could do it,” said Maria Perez, the program’s technology and engineering teacher. She was able to make contact with a company official in early November. That resulted in today’s meeting with the company’s executive director of engineering and product development manager.

Perez is one of the other people on the trip, but she won’t take part in the pitch. That’s all up to Witt, who admitted he is nervous.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It will be a first experience like this.” He said the presentation will last three to five minutes followed by some time for questions.

After initially designing the fix for the blinds, Witt went on to another project with the Cedar Falls company Kryton Engineered Metals. As a result, he has some presentation experience under his belt. Still, he spent some time practicing the presentation over the holiday break.

If all goes well, the company could like his idea and want to use it. According to a “student agreement” Witt has to sign, if the company uses the idea he could get paid up to $500.

Perez hoped an internship could be a possibility for him. The company has an intern program, but it is usually aimed at college students.


Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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