April 1, 2005 | By: Terri McLean

While about 50 old lawn mowers got a much-needed spring tuneup, student workers at the annual lawn mower clinic at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture got an opportunity to add a little polish to their skills.

The clinic, originally established as a fund-raiser for the biosystems and agricultural engineering student group at UK, now enjoys success beyond dollars and cents. Organizers say the ability to give students practical experience is the real benefit.

“Any kind of hands-on experience you can have with something is valuable,” said Brandon McDonald, a graduate student member of the organization and clinic veteran. “Everything looks good on paper until you really get hold of something and work with it. You’ll find things that don’t work quite as nicely.”

Blair Duguid, another graduate student member of the organization, agreed that the hands-on experience is a plus but added that being able to fine-tune your professional skills is equally as important.

“When you talk about hands-on experience, not only do we get that but we get the side benefit of dealing with the customer,” Duguid said. “We’re not just back in the shop sharpening blades. We’re actually out greeting the customers, taking their lawn mowers from them and interacting with them.”

It’s that two-fold experience of “acting as a professional” and seeing firsthand how something works that provides the 10 or so student workers a real-world component to their education, one on which advisers Sue Nokes and Czarena Crofcheck place high value.

“As time goes on, we get more and more students who don’t have that hands-on, been-on-the-farm, working-on-the-tractor experience,” Crofcheck said. “They sometimes get intimidated by the fact that we do have students who do have that kind of experience. This experience allows the students to see that working on equipment doesn’t have to be intimidating.”

Although students majoring in biosystems and agricultural engineering focus more on system design rather than system maintenance, Nokes said allowing them to work on lawn mowers provides important insight.

“One thing all of our students do is learn some basic design concepts,” Nokes said. “We don’t really train our students to do maintenance, but it’s a way to get into the machine to see what the pieces are.”

“It’s a good way to learn how things work,” added Grant Wonderlich, who was in charge of this year’s clinic. “So when you design things you know what works and what doesn’t work.”

Students worked on lawn mowers of nearly every make and model this year. In assembly-line fashion, they changed the oil and cleaned the oil filter on each one, checked spark plugs, sharpened blades and gave each a good spring cleaning – all the things recommended during an annual tuneup. They charged $25 for the service.

“There’s a lot of teamwork involved, which is a big thing they stress in engineering,” McDonald said.

There also is a lot of ingenuity involved. 

“We try to make sure people bring in lawn mowers in working order,” Duguid said. “Sometimes that doesn’t happen. We try to do our best to make sure they’re working whenever they leave here.”

Much the same can be said about the students participating in the lawn mower clinic.

“The clinic gives students a chance to learn beyond the classroom,” Nokes said. “They get the type of experience that employers look for in potential employees and it gives these students an advantage in the job market.”

Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276


Contact: Sue Nokes 859-257-3000, ext. 215
Czarena Crofcheck 859-257-3000, ext. 212