Love is a laser cutter

Scene and heard.

Patrick Garrity
February 5, 2018
Boy using the laser cutter.

Jaime Romero ’19 works with the scroll saw.

The laser cutter hums quietly while it works, sawing a creation through a thin piece of wood that might have been a clipboard in an earlier life. Jaime Romero ’19 keeps watch, making sure the laser obeys orders.

Love Is …

Slowly a message takes shape as smoke wisps dance beneath the contraption’s glass enclosure.

It is one of those December afternoons that can’t seem to make up its mind, bathed in sunshine but biting still. The design lab’s open hours have lured a handful of students through the cold to the top floor of Phelps Science Center.

Love Is …

Another line appears. Romero seems satisfied. The upper from Massachusetts is an old pro with the industrial- sized laser cutter. He has used it for class work, but today he’s here just for fun, helping out a friend. “Happiness is our main priority” reads the message on the back of his Ewald dorm hoodie. It is suitable attire for today’s task.

Love Is

Love …

The laser finishes its chore. Romero lifts the cover and retrieves his handiwork. The aroma of burning wood prevails as he peers straight through the board where the laser has carved composer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s poignant words from an unforgettable Tony Awards acceptance speech.

Another student jumps onto the Mac computer connected to the laser cutter. The laser and the 3-D printer are the stars of this 21st-century shop classroom. A band saw, a scroll saw and a drill press stand nearby, the less flashy utility players of the space. The lab is the manifestation of a growing maker culture at Exeter. Learning how things are made, designing them with your brain, then actually building them with your hands has stretched the traditional Harkness classroom model.

Curiosity and creativity have many outlets, after all. Some require a band saw.

Shepherding the open hours of the lab is Nico Gallo. He’s a maker himself, a recent University of New Hampshire graduate with a mechanical engineering degree and a passion for art. Gallo serves as troubleshooter- in-chief in the lab and a sounding board for the students’ ideas. His boyish looks and easy manner could fool a visitor looking for the boss, but Gallo knows his business, and the students pick his brain frequently.

Reed Ouelette ’18, on the other hand, could easily be confused for the teacher. A full beard and his shirt-and-tie earnestness cast the day student from nearby Kingston, New Hampshire, as the grown-up in the room, but he’s really just waiting for his turn on the laser cutter.

His project is a pet one: carving PEA symbols into wooden blocks. His game plan is to dole them out as stocking stuffers to teachers, advisers and others who have helped him navigate the Academy as he makes his way toward graduation.

Ouelette comes to the lab whenever he can. He’s hoping to study in Northeastern University’s celebrated Co-op Program that combines classroom study with real-world experiences.

“I love to be hands-on,” he says. “The shop is my place to be.”

Ouelette is happy to have his lab mates complete their laser work before he takes over; he has 56 blocks to cut. He’ll be a while.

“I’ve figured out that it takes 22 minutes for a set of four,” he says. He does his English homework as the laser burns a lion rampant into a pine board.

The laser cutter hums.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2018 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.