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How a Pre-Dental Major Ended Up With a Metalcasting Passion

Pam Lechner

What does a pre-dental major have in common with a mechanical engineering technology major? In this case, the first leads to the second.

Ryan Skerbeck is a recent graduate of Central Washington University (Ellensburg, Washington), one of FEF’s network of schools. He entered CWU as a pre-dental student and worked as a dental lab tech making gold crowns. Much of this process was creating a wax pattern by hand and then using an
investment casting process to cast the crown out of gold.

“This experience gave me a rudimentary understanding of the casting process and sparked my interest,” Skerbeck said. “In my third year, I realized that my talents were more suited to engineering.”
Skerbeck switched to mechanical engineering tech and chose to take the casting processes elective.

During that elective, a different industry professional lectured on an aspect of the casting industry almost weekly. After completing that class, he took the advanced casting processes class. This
class consisted mostly of preparing the foundry for the casting processes class and pouring their daily molds.

“Those two classes were most definitely the best part of my college experience,” Skerbeck said. “I was basically given free rein of a small industrial-style foundry to cast everything that I could think of and that we had the equipment to process.”

As one of the graduation requirements, Skerbeck had to complete a senior project. He chose to design and make a cast aluminum air compressor mount bracket.

“We designed the bracket so that it could be quickly and easily produced, as well as making the finish machining less labor-intensive,” he said. “During the process of this project, I learned a lot about pattern making and how to better optimize design to make a casting easier to produce. I also got to
spend valuable time in the foundry, completing more than 50 aluminum pours that school year, and was able to improve some of the processes for future students.”

Skerbeck’s reason to choose the project was clear.

“The reason I chose this project and the reason that my friends and classmates helped me, was because of our shared enthusiasm for working in the foundry,” Skerbeck said. “We both skipped study time on multiple occasions just to clean the foundry or help with a class that was using the foundry
for demonstration.”