Lifelong collection gets new home to inspire STEM students

Wednesday, October 4, 2023 - 08:09
Visitors enjoying the Pettinger Engine Collection
Visitors enjoying the Pettinger Engine Collection

DENTON (UNT), Texas — A unique collection made its debut at the University of North Texas College of Engineering that’s expected to inspire STEM students for decades to come.

The Pettinger Engine Collection, located at UNT’s Discovery Park, is comprised of scale model or hobby engines that were once used to power model aircraft, cars and boats. The collection also features specialty items like a 1934 Maytag washing machine powered by a kick start gasoline engine, several vintage outboard boat engines and a classic 1965 Honda motorcycle.

“We are so grateful to Wes and Hedwig Pettinger for their generous gift to inspire the next generation of STEM professionals,” UNT President Neal Smatresk said. “Our students will be encouraged not only to learn but to dream big and create future innovations.”

The Pettinger Engine Collection contains more than 500 engines from a vast assortment of machines. The collection also includes parts used in mechanical engineering and model vehicles like spark plugs. Some pieces date back to the 1930s.

Wes Pettinger, an engineer and entrepreneur with a lifelong passion for combustion engines, said it’s a collection 30 years in the making.

Hedwig and Wes Pettinger and College of Engineering Dean Paul Kreuger
Hedwig and Wes Pettinger and College of Engineering dean Paul Kreuger

“This is all for education and stimulating an interest in STEM,” he said.

He’s excited by the variety of opportunities the collection can offer.

“Students will have to work to understand what outside forces influenced an engine’s design,” he said. “Those lessons will shape their future ideas and foster innovation. That innovation can one day help humanity.”

The collection is part of The Pettinger Center for Design and Innovation at Discovery Park. The center is a 7,429-square-foot space where engineering students have ample resources — like 3D printers, cuttings tools and spacious tables with extra utility plugs — to create their North Texas Design senior projects.

“It’s like a window to the past,” said Nathan Scammel, a UNT mechanical engineering senior. “A lot of these engines were extremely impressive for their time, and we can use that knowledge for future technology.”

The center opened last fall thanks to a donation from Wes and Hedwig Pettinger — the largest gift ever made to the College of Engineering.

Hedwig Pettinger (’79 M.Ed.) was proud for the center and collection to open at her alma mater. She previously served as middle school technology coordinator for Garland Independent School District and helped established their robotics program.

“It really all came together,” she said. “We envision the center as a communal space. We wish for as many students as possible to see the collection and to be inspired for their own creations.”

Wes Pettinger explaining part of the collection to a student
Wes Pettinger explaining part of the collection to a student

More than 50 engines in the collection will be set aside for educational outreach. These traveling pieces will be used for public demonstrations, lessons at local K-12 schools or on loan for museums to temporarily display.

The collection will be digitized for public access with UNT Libraries’ Portal to Texas History. The Portal acts as a digital gateway so visitors from around the world can view historical materials of the state’s cultural and historical heritage collected from its partners at museums, libraries and archives across Texas.

“This really is such an exciting gift for the College of Engineering as we celebrate 20 years at UNT this fall,” Dean Paul Krueger said. “We hope everyone has a chance to learn from and be inspired by this distinctive collection.”

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

Media Contacts:

Amanda Lyons