Despite now being retired, former mechanical engineering (ME) staff member Deb Schroeder is keeping busy.
Schroeder, who worked as a clerk for the ME department from 2010 to 2019, spends part of her free time these days creating stained-glass panels. She gifted one of her most recent works to the ME department, which is currently on display in the department’s administrative office. She first started working with stained glass in 2008 after taking a 20-week course dedicated to the art alongside her daughter.
“I remember I kept breaking the piece of glass I was trying to cut and thought this might not be for me,” said Schroeder. “It took practice, but I got better.”
Prior to picking up stained glass, Schroeder was an avid sewer and said she sees parallels between the two hobbies.
“Stained glass relates to sewing as you had to have a pattern and then the material to cut and then construction of the piece,” she said, adding that one of the biggest challenges of working with stained glass is the limitations when cutting glass into specific shapes.
Over the years she has developed a unique process when creating these artworks. She starts off by drawing out the shapes she wants to use on a particular project using Excel. She sources her materials from local craft stores and occasionally turns to the internet, but when she does she tries to order from small, “mom and pop” shops.
Once she has her materials, she cuts the glass into the shapes she needs using a glass cutter and running plyers, then uses a grinder with a diamond tip to round out the rough edges. She applies a copper foil to the edges of the pieces, and uses a zinc frame for larger, heavier pieces.
“You assemble it just like a puzzle, one piece at a time,” she said.
After assembling all the pieces, she applies a 60-40 lead solder to the copper tape. The finished piece is washed to remove excess flux. She said she prefers a dark finish, so her final step is to add a patina (a coating of various chemical compounds) before giving it a final polish.
To date, Schroeder estimates that she’s created about 200 unique panels, most of which have been given away as gifts. Occasionally she will charge for a custom order as a way to cover the cost of her materials and equipment. She recently purchased a ring saw, which gives her more options for cutting particular shapes.
Schroeder will often spend days on a single piece. She estimates that the panel she gifted to the ME department took roughly 60 hours. A custom piece of the local High Trestle Trail bridge, which she created for a fellow ME staff member, took her roughly 100 hours.
Schroeder was born in Boone, Iowa, roughly 15 miles west of Ames, and has lived in the area her entire life. She and her husband built their dream home on a hay field near the house where she grew up. Dozens of her family members still live in the Boone area, including her two children and five grandchildren.
As a clerk for the ME department, she did everything from supporting both the undergraduate and graduate programs to helping faculty, staff and students purchase equipment and other materials to assisting in the ABET accreditation review process. Schroeder was often the go-to resource when people in the department had questions or needed help. She left ME in 2019 to work for the finance department, where she was able to continue to support her colleagues in the ME department, and the College of Engineering more broadly. Though she said it was a difficult decision, Schroeder retired from Iowa State University on June 30, 2021.
When she’s not busy creating stained-glass artworks, Schroder and her family enjoy camping. They have a park model in Harpers Ferry (in northeast Iowa) and enjoy boating on the Mississippi River during the summer. She is also an avid reader and has two Kindles “loaded with mysteries and sci fi/fantasy stories.” She has been a season ticket holder for Iowa State women’s basketball since 1998 and she said she is happy to be able to attend games in Hilton Coliseum again this season. Basketball is just one reason for her to continue to visit the campus near and dear to her heart.
“Retirement still feels like vacation and I have been keeping busy, but I really miss my co-workers and friends that I have made over the years,” she said.
For more info about these projects, can you contact Deb at firstname.lastname@example.org.