U-M construction team creates bicentennial gift for staff


University of Michigan apprentice Cabinet Maker Mike Mattila dedicates his days to the skilled trades for its simple pleasures.

He likes working with his hands — a pastime handed down to him from his grandfather, a farmer in Byron who taught Mattila about woodworking when he was a kid.

In honor of the university’s bicentennial, Mattila and his Construction Services colleagues have created a unique gift for U-M staff — slightly more than 10,000 gifts, to be exact.

As part of the upcoming MSTAFF200 bicentennial celebration, which will honor U-M staff contributions, staff members who present their Mcard will receive one wooden cube slightly smaller than a Rubik’s Cube that can stand on its axis on a blue acrylic base. The gifts will be available at any one of three information booths at the event.

Staff members will be able to pick up one of the engraved, wooden mementos at the MSTAFF200 bicentennial celebration June 27 at any one of three information booths. One per person. A valid MCard is required. (Photo by Peter Matthews)

Created by the university’s Construction Services department in Architecture Engineering and Construction, each cube is emblazoned with six illustrations on its sides: the U-M bicentennial logo, the MSTAFF200 logo, the year “2017,” the year “1817,” the iconic Block M and the phrase “Always Leading, Forever Valiant.”

Tina Jordan, MSTAFF200 co-chair and project manager, said the memento is a unique giveaway that will only be available at the event. MSTAFF200 will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. June 27. Voices of the Staff helped sponsor the gifts, and MSTAFF200 volunteers wrapped each one.

 “Each of these 10,000 gifts is very special,” Jordan said. “The gifts were designed by staff, made by staff, wrapped by staff — all for staff. We hope this memento reminds staff of their special bicentennial event, but, more importantly, we hope it reminds them that they are valued and appreciated.”

U-M’s skilled trades experts, from cabinetmakers like Mattila to sign-makers, worked from March to early June to create the cubic mementos.

Apprentice Cabinet Maker Mike Mattila uses a mitre saw to cut 10-foot lengths of wood into cubes. (Photo by Peter Matthews)

The U-M team was responsible for all aspects of production that transformed raw pieces of poplar into smooth, uniform cubes.

Richard Wilding Construction Services senior supervisor, oversaw the project.

Paul Guttman, director of Construction Services, said it was a rewarding project for his team to make the staff gift for the bicentennial.

“It’s incredible,” Guttman said. “It’s like all of our projects, but this one’s special just because all of the people at the university that receive this will have something either on their desk or their bookshelf that not only ties them to the university but ties them to the bicentennial year.”

Employees at Construction Services walk through the process for creating the cubes.

To make the cubes, U-M cabinetmakers graded the lumber for variances and then fed it into a straight-line ripsaw, which gave the wood a straight and flat surface. The product then went through a swathe Profimat machine, which further planes the wood to specific dimensions.

Eventually, the wood ended up at a mitre saw, where team members cut 10-foot lengths of wood into individual cubes.

Among his responsibilities during the project, Mattila used a mitre saw to create thousands of blocks.

“It’s very time consuming but it’s one of the simpler (projects),” Mattila said. “In the end, you’re just making blocks. But there’s days of work into making those blocks.”

Besides staying safe on the job while handling machinery, Mattila said one of the project’s challenges was making sure each cube was dimensionally the same.

“You can’t have mismatched blocks,” he said. “They all have to go in the same laser (engraver) and they all need to be almost exact dimensions. You don’t have much wiggle room.”

Sign Maker Nick Scott picks up several of the MSTAFF200 mementos from a laser engraver. (Photo by Peter Matthews)

Once the blocks were created they were placed in a laser engraver, where a laser burned images into the wood 338 cubes at a time.

Sign Maker Nick Scott oversaw the engraving process. He said because each side of the cubes had a slightly different dimension, he placed dividers between the cubes so the images would not run off the faces.

Construction Services will have a display table at the MSTAFF200 event, where U-M community members are encouraged to stop by, chat with team members and see an early prototype of the gift.

“We can’t thank staff like Mike and Nick enough for their enthusiasm and excellent work,” said Tim Kennedy, MSTAFF200 co-chair and building automation services manager. “We hope staff will stop by their table at the event and help us say thanks.”

Scott, who’s worked at U-M for about three years and has been in the sign making business since the 1990s, said he’s proud he helped create the bicentennial staff gift.

“As a sign-maker, you don’t expect that you’re going to be a part of something so big,” Scott said. He added the project presents “a very special” once-in-a-generation opportunity for his department to contribute to the university’s heritage.

Mattilla said he feels the same pride in knowing he significantly contributed to the bicentennial event.

“It gives me job satisfaction — knowing that (I’m) being part of such a historical event and knowing that thousands of people are going to take home something that I spent hours working on.”



    on June 21, 2017 at 6:12 am

    Exactly where can we pick up the MSTAFF200 cube?

  2. Matt Snyder
    on June 21, 2017 at 9:30 am

    You can go to any of the information booths for the MSTAFF200 giveaways. There will be a booth near Hill Auditorium, one right on North University, and one close to the flagpole on the Diag. The giveaways (yes, there are several) are one per person with a valid MCard.

  3. Jessica Calderon
    on June 21, 2017 at 10:30 am

    Wow that’s awesome! A huge thank you to Mike Mattila and his Construction Services colleagues for making these beautiful unique memento’s; and to everyone involved in providing them to staff; I greatly appreciate it and can’t wait to get mine! =)

  4. T Guzzardo
    on June 21, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    What a thoughtful and creative idea! Thanks!

  5. Sandra Cardone
    on June 21, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    What a thoughtful gift! Thank you so much! I am unable to attend due to a prior commitment. Is there an alternative time/place I may obtain one of these??!!

  6. Dawn S
    on June 27, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Lovely. What a nice gesture and excellent craftsmanship. Thanks!

  7. Cheryl S
    on June 28, 2017 at 8:16 am

    Is there any way to pick one of these up if we were unable to make it to the bicentennial event? Thanks!

    • Judy Brown
      on June 30, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      I would also be interested

  8. Julia Morrissey
    on June 28, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Is there any intention to celebrate the M200 at the Health System where those providing patient care are unable to leave to walk the mile to the Diag/Ingalls mall to partake in these wonderful events? Thank you and Go Blue!

  9. K S
    on June 28, 2017 at 11:47 pm

    I was there at the staff event and put my name and email on a list to one. One of my co workers showed me his. They turned out really cool.

  10. Dianna Martin
    on June 29, 2017 at 7:54 am

    Hello, are we able to have some blocks sent to our staff at O&P, S Industrial Hwy. We were not able to attend but would love to have the custom made blocks.

  11. Jean Hunt
    on June 29, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    I love my cube! Thank you!

  12. Ted Hall
    on June 29, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Same question: Are there any still available to staff who couldn’t make it to Central Campus for the event? I had hoped to get down there — I had my MStaff200 T-shirt and everything — but I couldn’t get away from work at the Duderstadt Center (North Campus).

  13. Barbara Mulay
    on June 30, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Thank you so much. What a beautiful and very special gift. You guys “ROCK”!

  14. Joseph Fowler
    on July 3, 2017 at 9:08 am

    I was out of town and unable to attend the event. Are there blocks still available for staff?

    • Laurie Sutch
      on July 5, 2017 at 10:23 am

      Same question! I have worked here a long time, and was sorry I could not attend the event. It would be great to get a block.

  15. Fawn Skarsten
    on July 3, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Is there a way to get one up here on the Flint Campus, couldn’t back it down due to meetings that day.

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