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Coug students make a ‘reel’ difference for veterans

By Tina Hilding, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture

PULLMAN, Wash. – Students sometimes wonder whether they’ll ever use what they are learning in school. Those at Washington State University recently witnessed the practical difference their work is making as they shared a barbecue, demonstrated their reel projects and learned the basics of fly fishing and tying with area veterans.

The School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering students are designing and building more than 30 reels to be donated to Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and Big Hearts Under the Big Sky, nonprofits that teach fly fishing and provide guided trips to military veterans and people with life threatening illnesses.

Components create complexity

After hearing about a similar project at a summer conference, WSU senior instructor Kurt Hutchinson rounded up donations of aluminum, bearings, cutters, end mills and more from several regional companies for his advanced manufacturing class.

“The project is positive for people and the community, but the fly reels are a truly challenging engineering project for the students,” he said. “They look basic but there are 30 internal components, which include a clutch mechanism.”

At the barbecue, the vets were shown the intricacies of reel manufacturing so they’ll have a little background while fishing.

“It makes me want to go back to school,” said Harold Watters, a veteran of Vietnam and the first Iraq war. He earned a purple heart medal and makes “purple heart” pattern fishing flies, which he donates to other veterans.

Focus, fine motor skills provide therapy

Fred Timms, director of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of Project Healing Waters and a Vietnam veteran, said fly fishing requires concentration and fine motor skills, which can help vets overcome some of their physical and emotional war injuries. Many vets are referred to the program through their rehabilitation therapists.

The program also helps veterans reintegrate into society while providing a positive, healthy activity.

“Fly fishing reconnects people with nature and provides serenity and calmness,” Timms said. “It’s very, very healthy.”

Watters said he finds fly tying therapeutic when he struggles with wartime memories: “Then I sit down and start tying.”

Students mindful of helping others

The students appreciated the time to visit with the veterans and try their hand at fly rod casting.

“Kurt found a way to teach manufacturing but also for us to give back to the community,” said Carl Mayer, a senior mechanical engineering student and a teaching assistant for the class.

As she listened to Timms’ instructions and practiced casting on the lawn outside the WSU engineering buildings, senior Matese Stevens enjoyed learning a new skill while helping others.

“It is awesome to see how what we build will affect people,” she said.


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