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February 2014's Fan of the Month

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In the first part of our series with Joey Brink, Joey shared many memories of playing and learning with K’NEX. He discussed skills and STEM concepts that he learned at very early age through playing with K’NEX. Unlike many college students who start college without a clear career path, Joey developed his at the age of five, in his bedroom, playing with K’NEX. Through Joey’s early childhood experiences with K’NEX evolved an interest in engineering, design, and building. To conclude our two part series with Joey Brink, we invite you to read below as Joey shares more memories, advice and outlooks for his future.

K’NEX: What other experiences led to your decision to pursue a career in Mechanical Engineering?
Joey: I have always enjoyed problem solving, whether that be solving a sudoku puzzle or taking apart a toilet to figure out why it's not working. The desire to innovate, design, and solve problems ultimately convinced me that Mechanical Engineering was right for me.

K’NEX: What influence did teachers/educators have on your career choice?
Joey's K'NEX Ball Machine Joey: Chemistry was my favorite class in high school because our teacher, Mr. Stephen Sekula, went beyond teaching us the standard chemistry curriculum. He taught us about string theory and relativity. We all left his class thinking science was really cool. I almost decided to major in chemistry or chemical engineering because of that class, but the passion I had acquired for mechanical systems brought me back to mechanical engineering.

I did not really decide to be a mechanical engineer, however, until senior year of college when I began applying to graduate school. My undergraduate mechanical engineering advisor at Yale, Professor John Morrell, picked up where K'NEX left off and continued to inspire passion for mechanical design. In my final year at Yale, we designed a generator, an energy-harvesting swinging door, energy solutions for the developing world, and a realistic-touch practice carillo/:

K’NEX: K’NEX is America’s STEM Building Solution. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young students today who are interested in a STEM career? What advice to have for children who want to pursue a STEM career?
Joey: I'd say the biggest challenge is to make it through the theory. As kids, STEM is fascinating concepts and playing with toys. In high school, STEM will sometimes (not always) be boring equations that have no apparent relevance to your life. In college, theoretical classes get worse before they get better. Once the theory is understood, though, STEM is, once again, playing with toys. Don't be discouraged by the boring / difficult STEM class. STEM is just as fun as you thought it was!

K’NEX: What advice do you have for parents of K’NEX builders?
Joey: Encourage children to be more creative with K'NEX – try building something totally new without any instructions. Let them make mistakes.

K’NEX: What is your biggest success thus far in your career?
Joey: Professor Jake Abbott and I were recently awarded a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF) for a novel magnetic manipulation project. The fellowship will support me through my Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah with yearly experience at NASA facilities around the country.

K’NEX: What can you share with K’NEX fans about the NASA project you’re working on?
Joey: Jake Abbott and I have teamed up with José Benevides at NASA Ames to design free-flying magnetic robots that navigate spacecraft. The robots, called Omnimagnets, were developed by Andrew Petruska and Jake Abbott at the University of Utah Telerobotics Lab over the last two years. Omnimagnets are omnidirectional electromagnets capable of real-time control of the magnitude and orientation of their magnetic field. In space, Omnimagnets will manipulate each other and their tools magnetically, assisting astronauts in routine maintenance and inspection tasks as well as highly dangerous activity outside the spacecraft.

K’NEX: What are your future goals?
Joey: Aside from academics and my NASA research, my fiancée Vera and I both enjoy playing the carillon. We periodically set goals to learn new carillon pieces, write new compositions or arrangements, and play at different concert venues.

Vera and I also hope to continue taking full advantage of the many outdoor opportunities while living in the Wasatch mountains here in Utah.

K’NEX: What advice do you have to today’s children?
Joey: Find something you like to do and work hard to do it better!

Joey's K'NEX Ball Machine
Joey's K'NEX Ball Machine
Joey's K'NEX Ball Machine
Joey's K'NEX Ball Machine

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