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Potsdam native wins big in national college competition

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POTSDAM — It was long hours of research, uncertainty and frustration during the five-week project that Justine L. Nichols, 21, of Potsdam, and her three teammates at Rochester Institute of Technology pushed through.

The effort was well worth it. Miss Nichols, a senior, found out her team won $2,000 as a grand prize in the student design competition of the national College Industry Council on Material Handling Education.

The project was during a facilities planning class for her industrial engineering major.

Miss Nichols and her teammates, Margaret Bates of Webster, Jessica Jeffrey of Marlborough and Alexandra Woodward of Chester Springs, Pa., designed a process for making room for a new product in a fictitious sporting goods distribution facility.

Miss Nichols said the team had to research and develop a cost-efficient plan that would not only create space in the distribution center for a new product, but enhance the business overall.

“It was definitely a surprise,” she said. “We didn’t realize we could win.”

Miss Nichols said they finished the project last year, and, since it was the best in the class, their professor entered their work into the national competition against 16 other participating schools.

They found out about their win over the summer.

Miss Nichols said her team also was invited to present its project at the Council on Material Handling Education conference in March in Atlanta, but since funding wasn’t provided, the three won’t be able to attend.

Specificity, cost savings and organization are the three components in Miss Nichols’s team project that made it come out on top.

“We were frustrated and unsure whether we were doing it right,” Miss Nichols said. “It definitely showed us how to push through situations like that. We were doing a good job and should have been more confident in our work.”

Miss Nichols went to Potsdam Central School and participated in Clarkson University’s Horizons, a summer program for high school girls interested in math, science or engineering.

Her mother, Neika J. Mayo, Potsdam, said the program helped her choose a college major.

“She wasn’t familiar with engineering at all, but they immersed the students in engineering projects and she really enjoyed it,” Ms. Mayo said.

Miss Nichols decided on a five-year program at RIT.

“My original plan was to go to Clarkson, but I still didn’t see myself as an engineer and didn’t want to stay in Potsdam,” she said.

She is working on her master’s degree in engineering management and will participate in an internship at JPMorgan Chase & Co. this summer in New York City.

“She’s accomplished quite a bit over the last four years,” Ms. Mayo said. “She’s always been very driven and she’s exceeded all of our expectations.”

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