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Local Church Enlists Clarkson University Star Power to Save Christmas Tradition

[A photograph for media use is available at]

The First Presbyterian Church in Potsdam will be able to continue a 25-year Christmas tradition thanks to some help from a Clarkson University Student Projects for Engineering Experience & Design (SPEED) team.

The church hoists a 16-foot-wide lighted Christmas star high onto the peak of its 150-foot-high steeple each November. The star can be seen from all around the village, shining down during the yuletide season.

This year the star’s battered aluminum frame was finally beyond repair, so Clarkson Prof. Richard Partch, moderator of the church’s board of deacons, sought help from School of Engineering Supervisor of Technical Support Service Ted Ritzko and SPEED Director Bob Davis.students with star at church

"Our Steel Bridge Team came to mind, as this project would involve welding and fabrication, and the team was looking for a project to hone their skills on in preparation for next semester’s ASCE Steel Bridge Competition," says Davis. "The team has always been one to volunteer for projects involving community outreach and I thought they were well equipped to help out the Presbyterian Church on this one."

The students met with Partch, who has been in charge of positioning the lighted star on the steeple more than two decades, and convinced him to let them build a new star out of chrome molybdenum steel tubing, which has a good strength-to-weight ratio in addition to corrosion-resistance qualities.

The team then put together leftover steel from a previous bridge project with a steel donation from the Baja SAE SPEED team. They fabricated and painted the new star in time for the church’s star-raising deadline.

Partch thanked the Steel Bridge Team and their mentors on behalf of the church’s congregation for "a superb job in welding the new star framework."

The First Presbyterian Church’s Christmas star will be switched on this Sunday, November 28, and shine until January 7.

The SPEED program is one of the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering hallmark initiatives, exemplifying Clarkson’s "defy convention" approach to education. SPEED promotes multidisciplinary, project-based learning opportunities for more than 350 undergraduates annually. Projects involve engineering design, analysis, and fabrication. In addition, students learn real-world business skills, such as budget management, effective teamwork, and communications skills.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Clarkson University’s Steel Bridge Team recently fabricated a new 16-foot-wide Christmas star for Potsdam’s First Presbyterian Church. Left to right: Church Session Member Julie Miller, student Jeremy Chapman, Clarkson School of Engineering Supervisor of Technical Support Service Ted Ritzko, and students Alex Deduck, Matt Schram), and Andrew Ballas.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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