Jaxon Zukowski, a senior at East Grand Forks Senior High School, is learning how to use a new $25,000 laser engraver that’s been installed in the STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- lab at the school.

“I’m in an aerospace class -- we’re making gliders and today we cut pieces out of these,” Zukowski explained, holding a strip of balsam wood that will be part of the model.

He demonstrated the use of the machine Thursday, Oct. 22, for visitors, including representatives of Ultima Bank Minnesota, which donated the funds to purchase the machine that can be used for a variety of projects.

The equipment, which can etch wood, plastic, acrylic, glass and metals, is operated with computer software to create and upload designs for the etching process.

Students are “pretty excited” about the machine, Jared Sanger, technology education teacher and head robotics coach.

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"(The technology) will allow students to dive into the world of creative design,” Sanger said. “Literally anything they can draw or model can be etched into almost any material with this machine.”

Even students who are not in his classes but have seen the machine are intrigued, he said.

“They say, ‘I want to take your class so I can use it,’ ” he said.

The laser engraver can etch objects up to 24-by-18 inches in size, and a row of about 30 pens could be lined up and engraved at one time inside the machine. The laser burns the image onto an object, Sanger said.

He sees many possible uses and creative applications.

“Students will personalize wood and metal projects,” he said. “Robotics and engineering students will utilize the machine to create stylistic additions to their projects and to cut out parts that can be used on their robots.”

The bank’s donation gives students an opportunity “to learn and grow” and gain practical experience with state-of-the-art equipment that represents “a wave of the future” in technology, Principal Brian Loer said.

Zukowski is interested in pursuing a career in the mechanical field, he said, and he expects his experience using the laser engraver will serve him well, after he graduates high school and heads to a technical school.

But beyond STEM students, the machine will be useful in education across a number of disciplines, Sanger said. Students in the art program “will be able to add engravings to a wide variety of their projects.

“This machine will help art students apply their principles and elements of design to technological processes used in industry today,” he said.

Teachers in the school’s business department are hoping to start a school store class in the 2021-22 school year, and Sanger foresees working with them “to provide many products that will be sold in the store, such as coffee tumblers, Green Wave signage, glassware, man cave and she-shed decorations, etc.,” he said.

Commitment to technology

Technology has been important to the leadership of Ultima Bank Minnesota for years, said Dawn Skeie Crane, the bank’s CEO, who was present Thursday for a check presentation at the high school.

Her father, Arnie Skeie, former CEO and owner of the bank, made a vow 20 or 30 years ago that the bank would “be on the cutting edge of technology,” said Crane.

“My father was very much into technology; he was very much a visionary,” said Skeie, whose mother, Jacqui Batie, was involved in education as a kindergarten teacher and school principal.

This is the first year Ultima Bank Minnesota has made donations of this type in communities it serves, Crane said. In addition to East Grand Forks Senior High School, the bank has provided similar support for technology in Win-E-Mac, Bemidji, Red Lake County and Fosston schools.

With these gifts, Ultima Bank Minnesota is helping “to keep the next generation on top of technology,” she said.

East Grand Forks School Superintendent Mike Kolness said the gift of the high-tech machine is “a very important donation. ... (and) will be beneficial for our students and community.”

“We greatly appreciate the support from Ultima Bank,” Kolness said.

When Sanger was first approached about what technology he would purchase with the sizable donation, he said, the laser engraver, immediately came to mind.

After a discussion with Eric Ripley, director of career and technical education and technology at Grand Forks Public Schools, which has equipment of this type, Sanger settled on the machine that now occupies his STEM lab. It was one of several options he considered, he said.



“I chose this one because I knew we would use it," he said.

Sanger has spent a good bit of time learning about the machine’s use and capabilities in order to help guide his students, and he’s excited for them to use it, he said.

“It’ll be fun in the next couple of years to see what they come with," he said.