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Trading in the Sea for the Sand

Pam Lechner

As Nikole Sauter approached her high school graduation, she hadn’t figured out what she wanted to study and felt she needed some direction in her life. She chose to join the U.S. Navy, which she found to be a great experience. The people she met in the service “really helped mentor and guide” her to where she is today.

Sauter was an aviation electronics technician on the F/A-18E fighter jet. Some of her responsibilities included troubleshooting and repairing weapons systems, mission computers, communication systems, and RADAR. Plane Captain was another one of Sauter’s titles: she set up the jet for the pilots and made sure everything was safe and ready to go.

Nikole Sauter
Sauter joined the U.S. Navy after high school and served as an aviation technician before enrolling at Cal Poly Pomona as an engineering student.

“Although it sounds odd, the most interesting thing was the deployments,” Sauter said. “No, it’s not great being stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean, but at the same time, I was able to see the world and do some amazing things—like swimming off the coast of Hawaii and seeing land for the first time in months.”

After the Navy, Sauter chose to enroll at Cal Poly Pomona because of the “engineering programs that were available.” During her sophomore year, the university started offering a few on-campus classes (this was during COVID). Coincidentally, her only class on campus was the same day CPP’s AFS club was hosting a foundry-in-a-box event. This was her first experience with metalcasting; the whole sand casting process really interested her.

“And, I got to take home a cool little tin teddy bear!” she said.

According to Sauter, so far, sand casting is her favorite process. She likes how much thought goes into designing a part and then creating a gating system that would produce the best results. In the metalcasting class, she thoroughly enjoyed when they had a loose pattern and had to dig the entire gating system by hand.

Putting into practice the things learned from books is very important to Sauter. Currently she is working with classmates on an African spear for the 2023 SFSA Cast in Steel competition; CPP students also continue to host foundry-in-a-box events, which, according to Sauter, are great fun and provide hands-on experiences. 

Last November, Sauter was able to attend the FEF College Industry Conference. 

“Two things I took away from that event: I think it was a great introduction of what job interviews in this field will be like, and I feel like I have so many options for future employment and internships,” she said. “It was a great networking experience.”

Sauter is looking forward to joining the foundry family as soon as she graduates in 2024.