Monthly Archives: June 2014

First week of STEM camps a success


The first week of STEM camps at OU was a success. The program continues throughout the summer. Photo/Stephanie Sokol

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS

Last week, students from 3rd to 12th grade gathered in Dodge Hall and the OU INCubator, to build and experiment in engineering. The annual summer-long STEM camps give kids the chance to explore the field.

“The kids have a lot of ideas and keep experimenting, so it’s nice,” said Ruth John, Industrial Engineering Teaching Assistant.

Pontiac Schools have teamed up with SECS, which will grant class credit to some high-school age learners. Courses are split into categories of Alternative Energy, Structures, Industrial and Systems, Electrical, Computer Engineering and Computer Science.

The first week spotlighted alternative energy. Under the instruction of Caymen Novak and Trey Whitehouse, children made their own batteries out of various household items, as well as miniature solar panels and wind turbines, testing the energy of each creation.

Older students spent time studying ergonomics, probability and statistics, using software to record and compare one another’s height, in a course led by Graduate Instructor John Katona.

STEM camps give students the chance to learn in a fun environment.

Throughout the summer, they will explore other areas of engineering, taking on projects to build robots, in addition to coordinating a light show to be played at Katona’s concert later this summer, which he said both himself and the students are excited for.

“I like working with kids because everything is new and exciting,” Katona said. “They haven’t experienced what engineering is like and it is exciting when they see their first program run or finish their first multifaceted engineering project. For many kids, it is their first time not being told how to do things, but they are allowed resources to build whatever they can envision.”

Registration is still available on Oakland’s website at


A Great Big World and Jukebox the Ghost bring fun to the Crofoot

A Great Big World performed at The Crofoot last night.

A Great Big World performed at The Crofoot last night. Photo/Stephanie Sokol

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

The audience at The Crofoot in Pontiac came together Thursday night, with the meaningfully happy music of A Great Big World and Jukebox the Ghost. While the bands clearly had a different sound, their message was the same— live for today and enjoy life.

A brief opening from Greg Holden started the evening on a more somber and mellow note, keeping it slow and steady on stage for a 25-minute 6-song set.

While he was musically talented and brought strong vocals, his slower songs made for a somewhat odd opening to what later became an extremely lively show. Fans sang along especially to a slower rendition of “Home,” which Holden wrote for artist Phillip Phillips.

Next up was Jukebox the Ghost, taking the stage for their hour and 45-minute, 11-song set. “Hello Metro Detroit. It’s really good to be here,” Keyboardist Ben Thornewill shouted, right before the band jumped into “Summer Song.”

Donning hipster-like denim apparel, Jukebox The Ghost kept things lively throughout the night, dancing around the stage and clapping get fans pumped up for the show. Thornewill, Guitarist Tommy Siegel and Drummer Jesse Kristin brought massive energy to the stage with their strong instrumental and vocal talent.

An impressive piano part on “Schizophrenia” showcased Thornewill’s skills. Kristin and Siegel also stood out in various songs throughout the set.

The band’s striking similarity to Queen was even more apparent during a harmoniously fun cover of “Somebody to Love,” which Siegel said they played as a song everyone would know. Jukebox The Ghost wrapped up their set with a performance of “Everybody Knows.”

Right before A Great Big World was about to take the stage, “The Circle of Life” started to play over the sound system, and the audience responded in a singalong that eventually led to very loud cheering.

Running out in flamboyant, brightly-patterned apparel, A Great Big World’s performance was a production.

Kicking off the evening with “Rockstar,” they were all smiles on stage. During “Land of Opportunity,” things got fun when lead singer Chad Vaccarino brought out a pink plastic trumpet, which had a surprisingly great tone.

Their hour and a half, 13-song set continued with “Everyone is Gay,” a lively performance that ended with Vaccarino bringing out the jazz hands as confetti shot into the air. The song was about happiness, and truly seemed to bring everyone together. People also got a kick out of Vaccarino’s triangle playing during “Cheer Up.”

The upbeat mood took a turn when the band started talking about “Say Something.”

“5 years ago we were in a dark place. We felt alone, and stopped writing music. I wrote this song to talk about how we were feeling… It’s really crazy that this song we wrote when we felt most alone connected with so many people. Thank you for all your love and support,” Keyboardist Ian Axel said. As the spotlight shone on Axel onstage, he performed “Say Something” and received massive response from the audience.

A Great Big World really showed their versatility when they performed “Shorty Don’t Wait,” a more acoustic-feeling track that they performed with the opening acts. The band returned to the stage, and closed the show with a two-track encore of “You’ll Be Okay,” and a cover of The Beatles’ “Got To Get You.”

It was clear from both their behavior and the actions of fans that the show had brought a lighter mood and feeling of togetherness to the evening of fun.

The Pit’s Stephanie Sokol and Shannon Coughlin had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Jukebox The Ghost about the tour experience, and their future music.

Nico Vega’s new album brings fresh sound

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

Indie band Nico Vega‘s sound has evolved over time. What started as grungy garage rock has transformed to a more structured musically alternative melody, which will be heard on their upcoming album, “Lead to Light.”

Nico Vega’s new album will be released July 22. Photo Courtesy of Catie Laffoon

Nico Vega’s new album will be released July 22.
Photo Courtesy of Catie Laffoon

“I would say that we probably started out a lot heavier,” Vocalist Aja Volkman said. “I was really into garage rock when i was younger, so i came from that background, as did my guitar player. That was kind of how the music naturally started. And it slowly became more musical. I’ve developed my songwriting ability over the years, that’s a big part of it.”

Volkman started playing solo gigs when she moved to Los Angeles, as a way to meet people. 

The band came together in 2005, and currently consists of Volkman, guitarist Rich Koehler and drummer Dan Epand, a group that she said really connected.

“They had me come down there and start working with them, and we fell in love. It was just all great,” Volkman said.

Since they got together, Nico Vega’s music has grown in popularity, from performing solely in small venues to appearing in film trailers, television and video games, including a sample on Bioshock Infinite.

While “Beast” was one of the first tracks the band wrote, a worker from Irrational Games was a big fan, and reached out about using it for the game. The band was surprised, but excited for the opportunity.

“That song is sort of more of a stand up for what you believe in and love your neighbor kind of song,” Volkman said. “It’s a social song, about rallying together — waking people up and having them feel like they can be heard and have a voice. It’s important to stand up for what you believe in. That’s what that song is for me.”

When it came to composing music for the new album, Aja said it’s a collaboration between everyone. A simple guitar riff or lyrical verse can bloom into a new track, but Nico Vega likes to think outside the box when it comes to their music, working together and collaborating with others.

“We never limit ourselves. It’s fun for us to experience music in different ways, and that’s what we try to do,” Volkman said.

Volkman said “Beast” and “Wooden Dolls” are her favorite tracks to play live, but she’s looking forward to taking the new material to the stage.

With collaborations from other artists, the album has variety to it. Each song is substantial and tells a story.

“I’m On Fire” tells the story of the red headed step child, and fights for the underdog. Produced by Dan Reynolds (Imagine Dragons frontman and Volkman’s husband)  “I Believe (Get Over Yourself)” is more upbeat and danceable. The song encouraging people to be optimistic, and the video, which was released last week, is just as cheerful.

As an indie band, social media has played a big role in Nico Vega’s fan base, but touring is just as important. While Lead to Light Drops July 22, the band will take the music to their fans, with international gigs and a North American tour planned for later in 2014. 

“I just hope the music makes people feel something,” Volkman said. “(I hope it) makes them feel a sense of fellowship— we’re not alone, we all have each other. That’s what music does for people in general, and I like to be a part of that.” 

OU and University of Michigan team up for ISE class trip

Stephanie Sokol for OUSECS

Students in Industrial and Systems Engineering Department instructor William

Photo courtesy of ISE

Photo courtesy of ISE

Edwards’ Flexible and Lean ManufacturingSystems class had some hands-on experience during a trip to the University of Michigan’s Tauber Institute for Global Operations in Ann Arbor.

The opportunity allowed the students to apply lessons learned in the classroom to real-world situations. Students built Borg-Warner TurboChargers on an “assembly line,” and worked on a Hot Wheels assembly simulation to enforce the importance of standardizing production.

“There’s only so much you can do with academics in the classroom,” Edwards said. “Trips like this really reinforce students’ knowledge.”

While the class takes a trip each semester to a local company, this collaboration was the first of its kind, bringing together the two universities.

In the TurboChargers activity, students went through Yamazumi Charts which are “a breakdown of operations into elementary work units and standardized timing (Takt) at which the flow of the overall process should be conducted,” according to Edwards. 

Work loads could be leveled to create a more even flow of work pieces through the process by taking workable averages of each station element.

Next, Hot Wheel cars were used in a mock production line to discover how buffers and variations impacts the end product. 

At the end of the event, Dr. Matt Potoff, University of Michigan Operations Leadership Factory Director, spoke with the classes, covering concepts that were used in the interactive learning session.

“The students are coming in more educated with more real world experience than in the past,” Edwards said. “I think it was a great collaboration between the University of Michigan and Oakland University, sharing resources for the education of the next generation of engineers.”

If you are interested in learning more about Oakland University’s undergraduate and graduate programs in Industrial and Systems Engineering, please contact Professor Robert Van Til (, 248-370-2211) or visit the ISE Dept. website at:

Oakland University Robotics Club’s hard work pays off

Stephanie Sokol for OU SECS

The Oakland University Robotics Association knows the value of hard work.

Taking home First Place for the Main Autonomous Navigation Challenge, Third Place in the Basic Autonomous Challenge, Third Place in the Interoperability Profile Challenge and the Grand Award for Overall Performance at the 22nd annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition didn’t come easy.

“(Winning) was an exciting moment — a stress relieving, load off the shoulders moment,” member Sami Oweis said. “It meant even more for us when we were told that we had just broke a record that was held unbeaten since the Auto-Nav challenge was developed to finish the complete advanced course.”

OU Engineering students Mike Truitt, Brian Neumeyer, Hudhaifa Jasim, Kevin Hallenbeck, Link Lorenz, Lucas Fuchs, Michael Norman, Micho Radovnikovich, Oscar Sanchez Vazquez, Parker Bidigare, Steve Grzebyk and Oweis make up the association.

IGVC was the club’s biggest event, and hundreds of hours were spent building their robot, “Mantis,” to perfect it for the international competition,

allowing them to take home the Lescoe cup for the second year in a row.

Mantis had a wheelchair-based suspension with a lightweight aluminum superstructure, the programming power of two Lenovo ThinkPad computers, a removable electronic box and green lights for effect— a combination the team knew would be effective at IGVC.

And it was— at the Mantis it became the first and only robot to ever fully complete the Advance Autonomous Challenge course which was introduced in the IGVC three years ago.

“This year we were more ready than ever before,” Hallenbeck said. “This meant more time for testing and tweaking parameters at the competition, and reasonable amounts of sleep.”

Students involved say the club is a great opportunity to apply skills honed in the classroom into the real world. In addition, it gave them experience working as a team.

Being involved since IGVC’s start, Oakland Robotics moved up from 20th, 13th and 3rd place, earning 1st for two years in a row, Grzebyk said.

“This was the eighth IGVC I’ve participated in since I was a junior in undergrad in 2007,” said Radovnikovich. “Every single year since then we’ve improved, and it was really nice to see the team reach the peak this year, my first year as an advisor.”

At this year’s competition, Oakland broke the four year record of no team completing the advanced course, making a mark on the industry and the university.

“It will be an honor if the first place trophy graces the hall of the new state of the art engineering building when it opens,” Grzebyk said. “It will serve as a reminder that we must continue with the proud tradition that this team has established, excellence in engineering and hard work.  Now it falls to the senior members to step aside and help train and mentor a new generation of eager engineers.”

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Alumni reunites with FSAE team 15 years later

David Shirkey, SECS '99, is getting back to his roots by outfitting Oakland's FSAE team.  Photo courtesy of Orbit Form

David Shirkey, SECS ’99, is getting back to his roots by outfitting Oakland’s FSAE team.  Photo courtesy of Orbit Form

By Stephanie Sokol for OU Engineering

After graduating from Oakland University in 1999, Engineering undergrad David Shirkey landed a job with Chrysler. He credits the opportunity partially to his experience with OU’s Formula SAE.

“I was able to leverage experience with Oakland FSAE into a job at Chrysler,” Shirkey said. “We took the car to an automotive event at Cobo arena, and some Chrysler executives were there. I had a picture taken there with me and my teammates. I sent that picture to the manufacturing vice president at Chrysler, and that was my foot in the door.

“Anyone who knows or has been involved in FSAE knows that those are the kind of students you want to hire, because they’ve already shown the initiative to volunteer, and take their own time to build and design something.”

Shirkey was an SAE member since his freshman year. But as a junior, he joined the Formula team to compete.

With the help of his group, after months of hard work and obstacles, they created their car, #311. In the process, they made OU history as the first team to make it to the competition.

Not only was the experience enjoyable and great for networking, but it also brought out topics taught in OU’s classes, taking Shirkey’s studies to the next level.

“I definitely would say that my FSAE experience was the strongest project and event I was involved in as an engineering student,” Shirkey said. “It brought to reality many of the topics we had been studying in the classroom involving construction and strength of materials, and assembly processes. Many engineering theories were built into the race car, and it was a great opportunity in learning how to work with a team.”

Currently, Shirkey works for Orbitform, a company that designs and builds assembly solutions for manufacturing. After three years at his first job with Chrysler, he took a new job as a project manager and engineer at Orbitform, when Chrysler requested large orders from the company.

After working many roles with the company, he became CFO of Orbitform in 2011.

Owned by Orbitform, Pit Products manufactures storage equipment for trailers and garages. Going back to his roots, through Shirkey, Pit Products will be outfitting OU’s current FSAE racing team with trailer cabinets, tire racks and other storage accessories.

While campus life was one of Shirkey’s favorite elements of Oakland University, he also liked the school’s location— which is close to many engineering and manufacturing related businesses seeking workers.

With persistence, students can really stand out and make connections, he said.

“As soon as you reach out, you’ll find opportunities,” Shirkey said. “Look for extra curricular activities like formula, as a way to differentiate yourself.”

David Shirkey welcomes contact from current OU Engineering students and alumni. Email him at