News: Literature Students Laser Cut 17th Century-Inspired Medals

Student Medal

Posted February 16, 2017

When you think of the tools a student might use for their final project in an English course, a laser cutter is probably not the first that comes to mind. In a unique assignment, Professor Aaron Santesso asked his 17th-century literature students to design and produce period-style medals using wood and a laser cutter.

This comes as part of a larger movement in the School of Literature, Media and Communications towards encouraging interest in both making and thinking. For Santesso, it’s also about complementing the students’ backgrounds, which are primarily in engineering. “I’m a literature professor but my idea is to play to the strengths of the students—their confidence and comfort—and show them how to use the skills they have,” he explained.

For his courses in general, Santesso tries to find a connection between the technology of the period and literature of the period that students are studying. Seeing as the 16th and 17th centuries were high points for the production of medals for various purposes—political, event-related, souvenirs, fundraising—he decided to make medals the focus for the course’s final project.
“Period literature alludes to medals and the theme of power,” he said. “The way power was expressed was being rethought during this period, which was an increasingly secular environment.”

Santesso originally wanted the students to use 3D printers to produce the medals; however, a meeting with DILAC GRA Josh Moore led him down a different route. “Josh recommended the laser cutter, which would be more precise for textual and visual elements,” he said.

As engineering students, most had worked with the laser cutter on previous projects. Santesso added, “I’ve found in my years at Tech that students not only have increased confidence in labs, but also increased ambition in using those spaces.” Moore taught Santesso’s students how to use new software, which helped those without experience learn the basics and those with experience take their work to the next level.

The students then presented their creations and discussed their ideas. Santesso hopes that the project will also make students more marketable in the job search. “This way they have something they made and can talk about in an interview,” he said.

Santesso is currently teaching a course on the technology of representations with a focus on villains. He plans to have students invent villains, pitch a comic book idea, and 3D print a material element related to the villain.


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