Christine Pratt 'is always willing to help students'

Whenever students need help designing, testing, or building something in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, they know they can rely on senior technical associate Christine Pratt to be an invaluable resource and cheerleader.

Christine Pratt in a labIn appreciation, Hajim School seniors have chosen her to be the recipient of the 2022 Dottie Welch Student Enrichment Award. The award is given annually to a Hajim School staff member “whose performance and dedication enriches the student experience” in the tradition exemplified by the former undergraduate coordinator in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

"Her dedication to helping the students and her commitment to her job responsibilities are both tremendous," one student wrote. "As long as she is in her office, she is always willing to help students regardless of who they are or what kind of help they need." 

Another student noted, "throughout my four years she has been one of the many backbones of the ME department. She is always willing to help students and will never make you feel dumb for asking anything. She treats freshmen and seniors alike with respect and kindness."

“That’s excellent,” Chris Muir, professor of mechanical engineering commented when he heard that Pratt was chosen for the award. Muir directs the department’s senior design program and is a faculty advisor for the Baja SAE team. “I couldn’t think of a better candidate. Chris is a fundamental part of the undergraduate experience.”

Since joining the department in 1992, Pratt has helped guide students through innumerable senior design projects. She has helped the Baja SAE student team—for example, testing a new suspension system for the team’s off-road vehicle in 2018—and travels across the country with it to compete against other university teams.

She helped a team of students come up with angled deck screws to secure the frame for a novel device for launching pumpkins, a popular annual tradition on campus each fall. She created a casting process so students could create parts in the machine shop for their ME 204 Mechanical Design course. One goal of the course is to help students understand why their CAD designs will work only if the components can actually be machined to the specifications.

Pratt helps students in other engineering departments as well. One of the many Bravo Chips she has received from the Hajim School cited the materials testing she has done for several chemical engineering senior design teams over the years.

“She is always willing to step up to a challenge,” Muir adds.

At the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, for example, Pratt helped troubleshoot technical and production aspects of a project that several faculty, staff members, and students undertook to fabricate plastic sheets and frames. The sheets and frames were used by a volunteer organization that provided much-needed protective face shields for nurses, doctors, and other health care providers.

Pratt also created a plastic clear board so that students and faculty could interact from opposite sides of the board, sketching their ideas and designs for projects while maintaining separation.

“I was walking across campus the other day with some students in senior design and we were discussing all of the COVID cases and how folks were isolated for a week,” Muir says. “We all agreed that if Chris had to be isolated, we may need to extend the semester until she came back.”