small college, big ideas: breaking world records in michigan’s upper peninsula


the worlds largest yo-yo

THURSDAY JUNE 23rd, 2011

Located on the shores of Little Bay de Noc, Escanaba is a go-to spot for many outdoor enthusiasts who flock to the area year round for hunting, camping, fishing, boating and hiking. With just over 12,000 residents, this small city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula may not be well known to those outside of the state, but a group of students at a local community college have been working to change that in a unique way – by putting themselves in the Guinness Book of World Records.

It all started 18 years ago when Jerry Havill joined Bay College as an instructor in the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) program. CAD, also known as Computer-Aided Design and Drafting (CADD), is the use of computer technology for the process of design, design-documentation or drafting. As part of the college’s program, Havill worked to create a capstone class that provides real-world experiences – instead of just creating drawings, students are presented with a problem that they work collectively to solve using CAD.

World's largest tricycleAfter a few years of completing successful projects, the class of 1998 decided to take it to the next level by attempting to use CAD to break a Guinness Book World Record. Their project, the world’s largest tricycle, proved to be more challenging than first anticipated, but after months of hard work, the team officially broke the record in August 1998.

World's largest golf teeThis amazing success set the tone for future classes, and they chose to keep the momentum going with projects including the world’s largest padlock, the world’s largest skateboard, and the world’s largest golf tee. Some classes chose not to attempt world records, but they did choose projects that were just as challenging. The 2008 class built a device to help a local, partially-paralyzed man onto a treadmill and support some of his weight during physical and occupational therapy treatments.

World's largest yo-yoThe most recent CAD class took on the challenge of designing and constructing the world’s largest yo-yo. Members of the team – Ryan Fairbanks, Jacob Nietling, Mark Cocco, Matt Yadro, Jessica Potvin, Viki Branstrom and Adam Hoffman – worked for four months to complete the 11-foot, six-inch yo-yo. The record, previously held by a group of college students from Manchester, England, was officially broken in July 2010, when the 1,625-pound device was dropped by a crane from 100 feet, using a 65-foot rope rated at 81,000 pounds.

More than 100 spectators were on the edge of their seats as the yo-yo began its decent, but none of them could have been as nervous as team leader Ryan Fairbanks. “My entire team was anxious and nervous, especially when we realized the unbelievable force the yo-yo would create,” said Fairbanks. “We were all afraid the device would break or malfunction. Once we realized that it worked, and worked safely, relief was my biggest emotion.”

Fairbanks said the team couldn’t have done any of this without the help of instructor Jerry Havill. He also admits that the recognition the college receives was a motivator in their quest to break a world record. Over the years, as word of the CAD team’s accomplishments has spread throughout the state, the events have some prominent attendees, including the governor.

“We felt proud to be able to do this for the college,” said Fairbanks. “A small group of students from a little-known school achieving a world record is pretty amazing…it’s nice to be recognized for that.”

As for his part in the class, Havill says he combines his background in art and engineering to create an environment in which his students are challenged to do their best, but in a fun and interesting way. The students decide what the final project will be based, in part, on how much time each team member is willing to commit. The commitment levels are broken down into three categories – “student”, “wannabe crazy” and “crazy”. If the entire team labels themselves “crazy”, they will probably choose to take on a more intense project. Havill says the yo-yo team started out as “wannabe crazy”, but as the project progressed, and they became more and more excited about breaking the record, they seemed to all transition to “crazy”, working four to five hours a day, four to five days a week.

“We didn’t have to select a world record project, but we all decided it would be cool to try it out,” said Fairbanks. “We came into the class knowing that we were going to be tested, and the biggest lesson I learned is that hard work really does pay off.”

In addition to actually completing the design and the construction, it is also up to the teams to come up with funding. In the past, the CAD program has been offered some financial support for the class from the college, but Havill has turned that down because he wants his students to raise the funds on their own. He explains that it’s important because “it’s what people have to go through in the real world.” After various fundraising efforts, the yo-yo team was a little short of the money they needed to complete the project, but at the last minute, they were fortunate enough to receive a $5,000 sponsorship from Yo-Yo Material was also donated by area businesses, and local experts provided their knowledge as needed.

After completion, most of the record breaking items are sold to support future projects, but the class is also encouraged to donate some of the funds to local charities. The yo-yo is currently up for sale, and is on display at the college.

Havill says there is already another individual working on breaking the CAD class yo-yo record, but he has told his students that “how long the record is held is not as important as actually breaking it.”

“Sometimes the idea of winning can dominate the process,” explains Havill. “I think it is more important to instill the idea of good sportsmanship, so I encourage the students to support other groups looking to attempt the same challenges. It’s just a good human characteristic.”

The current CAD class is in the process of selecting its final project, and they will be the last group to go through the class as it is set up now. Going forward, the program is being redesigned to focus more on drafting, which the college feels will provide more entry-level opportunities for students looking to stay in the Upper Peninsula.

“I have distinct memories of each class and I am really proud of them all,” said Havill. “I think overall this class really demonstrates people working together in a positive way to reach a common goal. These students are creating lifelong memories, and it is great to be a part of it!”

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