St. Olaf Campus News
- Fast Company magazine highlights professor’s Rube Goldberg machine
When Fast Company magazine wanted tips for designing an “awesome Rube Goldberg machine,” they turned to St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Physics Jason Engbrecht.
For four years, Engbrecht led teams of St. Olaf students to the national Rube Goldberg competition — where their machines twice took first place — and he recently worked with alumni Bryce Danielson ’11 and Christian Weeks ’13 to create a Rube Goldberg contraption for 3M.
The end result of that collaboration, dubbed The Brand Machine, is “a wonderful contraption that uses 10 different 3M products as gears in an insanely convoluted Rube Goldberg machine,” notes Fast Company.
Engbrecht tells the magazine that a great Rube Goldberg contraption has to have “interesting and wacky” parts; be perfectly timed; work flawlessly (and, ideally, always work flawlessly); take into account feedback from non-scientists; and have a “big and spectacular” finish — which, of course, the 3M machine does thanks to 25,000 Post-it notes.
When he’s not working on Rube Goldberg machines, Engbrecht teaches analytical physics, electronics, engineering design, and a variety of introductory and advanced laboratories at St. Olaf. His research interests focus on the interaction of positrons and positronium with ordinary matter at low energies, as well as robotics.
Read more about the first group of St. Olaf students to win a Rube Goldberg national championship in the St. Olaf Magazine.
- Student launches a business with a purpose beyond profits
Each year, Nigeria imports 900,000 metric tons of fish — a culinary staple in the West African nation — to help meet a market shortfall of 1.8 million tons.
That prompted St. Olaf College student Justice Nwigwe ’18 to ask a simple question: Why not produce more fish in Nigeria?
And why not do so in a way that uses the profits from selling locally grown fish to help members of the community?
So rather than spend his summer interning at a company, Nwigwe established his own.
Using grants he received from two entrepreneurship programs offered through the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career, Nwigwe established Papa Theo’s Fish Farm in his hometown of Ihitta-Ogada, Nigeria.
The farm utilizes aquaculture practices to rear fish from eggs to market. And not only will the company create jobs in the community — which has an unemployment rate of 53 percent among young people — but it will also use its profits to provide microcredit loans to local residents who want to start their own businesses.
Nwigwe hopes this endeavor will serve as a catalyst for improving the village’s economy and reducing poverty rates.
He pitched his plan for the farm as part of the 2015 Ole Cup, an annual student entrepreneurial competition at St. Olaf. His proposal received the competition’s “Best Social Venture” award and a grant to help make it a reality.
That, along with a Finstad Entrepreneurial Grant from the Piper Center and funds from several investors, enabled Nwigwe to spend four weeks this summer in Nigeria establishing Papa Theo’s Fish Farm.
“The ‘Theo’ in Papa Theo’s Fish Farm is for my grandfather, who also had a fish farm when he was alive. But after he died, the farm became dilapidated,” Nwigwe says.
This summer Nwigwe began building a new fish farm. In addition to purchasing a plot of land to build the farm, he also secured a partnership with local farmers who will assist with the business while he’s at St. Olaf.
The farm currently has three employees, a number that Nwigwe hopes to eventually increase to somewhere between 20 and 30. His goal is for the company to eventually produce about 10 tons of fish each month.
“The farm is able to harness the unused labor and resources that exist in the community,” says Nwigwe, who is majoring in economics and political science at St. Olaf with a concentration in business management. “Hence, our cost of production is cheaper when factors such as the cost of transporting materials for production is taken out of the picture.”
This endeavor has not been without its lessons and challenges. The lack of modern infrastructure and utilities in Ihitta-Ogada has been an obstacle, for example.
Nwigwe says he’s learned firsthand the importance of planning each step along the way and how difficult entrepreneurship can actually be despite the best-laid plans.
Yet he’s committed to the farm, and plans to continue working on it over the next few years — and devote even more time after graduation.
“This fish farm, like the community itself, has a lot of untapped resources that can be utilized,” Nwigwe says. “I believe that once it’s fully developed, this farm will feed a lot families and can put food on many people’s tables at a good price. Why? Because this endeavor is mainly a social venture. So I really want to make this business work for the people.”