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‘Giving’ Coin Pays Off in Student Experience, FEF Payback

Pam Lechner

For the past three Giving Tuesdays (the Tuesday following Thanksgiving), FEF has encouraged alumni and friends to participate by making a contribution to support FEF students and schools. An added incentive for this national giving day has been the FEF school competition component. For Giving Tuesday 2020, FEF commissioned certified school Michigan Tech to produce a coin that was given to everyone who made a donation. Not only was the project a great opportunity for students to put their learning into practice, the result was a nice memento for those donors.

With a little input from FEF, Michigan Tech students created a design with the FEF logo on one side, and the MTU husky logo on the other side; the dimensions were 35 mm in diameter and 4 mm thick.

The next decision to make was what material(s) and process to use. With the support of FEF Key Professor Paul Sanders and under the supervision of staff engineer Russell Stein, the designers decided that for the best quality, they would make a steel tool (two-cavity) and use zinc, which provides a good shiny surface with corrosion resistance. 

“The high density of zinc also gave a good feel to the coin,” Stein said. “The best alloy for low pressure [fluidity] in permanent molds is ZN-12, which is the alloy we selected.”

The majority of the production was accomplished by three material science and engineering students. Through this project, the students learned about the effectiveness of the casting process as well as experienced all the steps of production. Another lesson learned was the importance of temperature control for the tool and the metal during the process to produce a quality casting.
One of the participating students got involved because he wanted to help fine-tune the finishing processes. 

“The coins were not polishing easily and were prone to tarnishing when in contact with water,” Henry Summers said. 

Another student, Isabella Wakeham added, “As a co-op student, the skill that I got to practice the most was metallography, the grinding and polishing of a metal’s surface so its microstructure can be analyzed. I developed an efficient process to grind the coins to a 600-grit surface finish using rotating polishing wheels and drying them quickly with ethanol so they would not tarnish. We then sealed them with a clear enamel spray.”

The project was a success on several levels. It provided an educational experience for the students while they worked on metal craftsmanship and applied some of the basic problem-solving strategies learned in many classes. FEF was able to further the educational process by giving a “thank you” token to our Giving Tuesday donors. The 2021 Giving Tuesday coin is going to be produced by FEF certified school, Virginia Tech. If you would like to participate with FEF for Giving Tuesday, November 30 this year, visit www.fefinc.org/donate.