The first time she stepped inside of the UNI Metal Casting Center, surrounded by the red-hot glow of molten metal, Maria Alverio knew she was hooked.
“There are two types of people in this world: the type who see molten metal and run away, and the type who can’t help but go closer. I’m definitely the second type,” Alverio said.
Alverio recently graduated from UNI with a degree in manufacturing engineering technology and an emphasis in metal casting, and she’s now in her first year of grad school at UNI, where she’s continuing her metal casting studies. Coming into college, Alverio never dreamed of doing this type of work. She had always been interested in history and intended to major in it, but fate had a different plan.
“During my visit to UNI, there was a breakout session to tour the Department of Technology, and the Metal Casting Center,” she said. “When they called that group, it felt as if I was being called to follow. I stood up, and my parents looked at me like, ‘what are you doing?’ But after that tour, and the first introductory course, I knew I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."
From day one, Alverio threw herself into the world of metal casting, and has never looked back. Over the course of her undergraduate career at UNI, she spent four years working at the UNI Metal Casting Center – one of the top institutions in the world focused on foundry research, with expertise in the specialty process of sand casting.
At the center, Alverio had the opportunity to work with organizations around the world to design, build and test metal casting materials, processes and molds, which were used by everyone from private companies to the U.S. military.
She’s melted iron, steel, aluminum, brass – and even a meteorite, which holds the spot as her most memorable casting experience so far.
“There was a meteor that had crashed in Russia, and a customer sent us parts of the meteor to melt down because they wanted to forge it into damascus knives,” she said. “It was a pretty unique experience. The forging process can’t be used until all of the non-metal portions are removed, and the meteorite is cast into blocks. When you melt a material like that, all of the chunks of earth that were embedded in the metal from the crash float to the surface as slag. Slag is the impurities in the melt that you wouldn’t want in your final product. I actually kept some of the meteor slag, and still have it displayed on my bookshelf as a reminder of that experience.”
Off campus, Alverio’s time at UNI led her to other unique experiences. She completed two internships with top-rated foundries in the Midwest. Through the internships, she experienced what it was like to work both on the crowded floor of a foundry, and behind the scenes in the engineering offices.
When asked what it’s like to be a female in a largely male-dominated field, Alverio says it doesn’t really faze her. “When I walk into a room, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to be one of a few women, or even the only woman,” she said. “But I choose not to think about that. I just focus on the skills and knowledge of the craft.”
Alverio says she’s found connections with other women in the metal casting industry – including Shelly Dutler, a UNI Department of Technology alumna who now works as an engineer for a metal casting solutions company. “I really look up to [Shelly]. She’s highly respected in the industry,” Alverio said. “I see her as sort of a mentor, and if I have questions, I ask her. I’ve also found ways to connect with other women in metal casting through LinkedIn and social media. There are plenty of women out there that I look up to.”
Alverio says she’s thankful to UNI and to her professors and supervisor for giving her the experiences she’s had, and a place to find her passion. “UNI gave me a place to explore, and to ask questions, and to try new things,” she said. “I’ve met some of my best friends here, and found amazing mentors. I’m so thankful for all of it.”