Pete Hetman, an instrument maker in the department of mechanical science and engineering, says working with numbers always has come easier than working with words. A native of Salzburg, Austria, Hetman immigrated to the United States when he was 14 months old, and didn’t learn to speak English until he was 4. An avid sports car fan, Hetman is a member of the Champaign County Sports Car Club and enjoys Autocross racing.
What are your job duties?
I help mechanical engineering students by making many of the parts that are used in their projects. The students give me blueprints and sketches and I make the workable parts using either hand machinery or computer control. After studying the sketch, I usually create a program on my PC and load it onto a disk. I then load that program onto a machine. One small part could take more than 20 hours to complete.
For example, a student was recently working on a project involving materials that could be used for bone reconstruction in the future. I used a numerical profile to cut square pieces of ceramic into circles. The machinery used is very precise. I am working down to 1/1000 of an inch, so every move must be planned and in the correct order.
Often, students will stop by with questions or to clarify something for me. I need to know the intent of their project before I can start making the parts. They are not always totally aware of what our capabilities are. Just because they draw it doesn’t always mean that I can do it. Being in constant communication with the student helps everything go smoothly.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love the mechanical part of it. Making something from nothing and seeing a project come together for a student is very satisfying. I also like a challenge. My job is all about figuring out how to do a process in the correct order. Anyone can turn on a machine, but I have to figure out the best way to do every progression in order to complete the part. It’s all about remembering the little things and being able to work with precise and intricate measurements. If you don’t do everything in the right order, 20 hours can be wasted.
I love the senior design projects that come along each year; they’re intriguing. In one project I helped with, a student was trying to find out how much pressure was needed to pull blood platelets apart. I have also been able to work on the solar race car for the Society of Automotive Engineering.
Do you have any previous work experience that complements your current job?
I started out working at tool shops in Peoria. I have also worked with cars, which are my real passion. Twenty-one years ago I started at the UI and have been here ever since. My job does require a lot of expertise. When you work with different materials you have to know what they’re going to do; you must know their limitations and strengths and how they change under heat and pressure. The only way to learn this is through time and experience.
Tell me about your family and hobbies.
My wife and I live in St. Joe with two Maltese puppies, Cotton and Candy. I grew up in Chenoa, but after I met my wife, we moved to Mahomet where she ran the Hen House restaurant. Seven years ago she retired and we moved to our current home. We love it there because we never have to drive into the sun.
My biggest hobby is working on cars and Autocross racing. I was able to purchase my dream Autocross car, a Nissan 350Z. I also ride motorcycles and used to teach safety classes.
My oldest daughter, Mindy, was married last year in Charlotte, N.C. My son-in-law works for Lowe’s Motor Speedway and I got to take my car around the track. I let my son-in-law drive first and he hit 120 mph on the first couple laps. My youngest daughter, Marisha, also lives in Charlotte and is an engineering student at the University of North Carolina. I also have a step-son who works with computers at Arizona State University.