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Article updated: 1/24/2013 10:04 AM

Local students win money for duck calls, aluminum

Suburban businesses offer scholarships for odd projects

By Burt Constable

Suburban high schoolers (or at least their parents) constantly prowl for college scholarships. Most applications involve lots of essay writing for a chance at winning a little scholarship money. But not all.

The Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest has been awarding college money to talented duck-callers since 1974. "Star Trek" fans planning to study a foreign language can apply for a Klingon club's Kor Memorial Scholarship. And a suburban-based international trade association offers college scholarships to high school and college students who finish at the top of its International Aluminum Extrusion Design Competition.

First, it helps to know what aluminum extrusion is.

"Think of a Play-Doh Fun Factory," explains Nancy Molenda, communications manager for the Aluminum Extruders Council, which occupies a nondescript suite in a Wauconda office park. With that children's toy, soft Play-Doh is fed into a machine and pressed through a variety of holes that mold it into interesting shapes such as stars, triangles, spaghetti and such. Aluminum extruders do the same thing by using powerful hydraulic presses and heated billets of aluminum.

"You make it warm and push it through a shape," Molenda says as she shows off an elaborate, round, snowflake-looking piece of aluminum that fits into a pump used by commercial fishing vessels to make an icy slush that preserves the catch.

Using a process invented in 1904, aluminum extruders make frames for doors and windows, computer laptops, complex heat exchangers, dental equipment, lightweight parts found in the latest automobiles, solar energy parts and enough other products to use about 20 billion pounds of extruded aluminum each year, says Jeff Henderson, director of marketing and business development for Sapa Extrusions, a worldwide aluminum company headquartered in Rosemont. Sapa is the chief sponsor of the scholarship design contest, which is an industry attempt to educate people about the possibilities of products made through aluminum extrusion.

"We don't have the equivalent of 'Got Milk,'" says Craig Werner, 54, who cut his extrusion teeth as a third-generation member of the Werner family ladder-manufacturing business. The Lake Forest resident now runs a consulting business called Werner Extrusions Solutions and is a full-time volunteer with the Aluminum Extruders Council.

"My goal is to get the word out," says Werner, who adds that aluminum is long-lasting, low maintenance and recyclable,

Students studying to become engineers, architects and designers generally learn lots about steel, an industry Molenda refers to as the rich and powerful "nemesis" of aluminum.

"They (students) are not getting exposure to aluminum and especially not aluminum extrusion," Henderson says.

The scholarship contest is free, and submissions will be accepted through April 12. The top prize is $3,000, and a total of $8,500 will be awarded. Students generally submit their applications on presentation boards with detailed descriptions of how aluminum extrusion would be used. Entry forms can be downloaded at www.ETFdesign.org. Previous winners' designs include a lightweight, folding stretcher. a garage door that works like window blinds, an LED light fixture, an aerodynamic trailer and an easy-to-use dry-eraser board eraser,

While college students sometimes submit entries as part of their class work, Bartlett High School junior Akil Patel won an honorable mention in 2009 with his design for a lightweight, insulated door frame. Patel went on to study mechanical engineering in college.

The contest is expected to draw more than 100 entries, says Molenda. Creativity, practicality and marketability all count in the judging by industry professionals.

"I can't tell you how many wine racks we get," says Molenda, who adds that while those are attractive and practical, judges generally are looking for something more creative. At the other end of the spectrum are entries that are creative, but not really practical.

"A couple of years ago, we got one for an aluminum extruded violin," Molenda says.

With scholarship money up for a grab, a clever high school student might be able to kill two birds with one stone if he or she can design an aluminum extruded bird call that also could win the duck-calling scholarship.

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