Published June 02. 2011 4:00AM Updated June 02. 2011 11:19AM
Installing a brake light in a racing car can be tricky, but Anthony Salvagna and a classmate did it on the first try.
Salvagna, 18, of Lisbon, a senior at Norwich Technical High School, wasn't sure he and classmate Daiwan Snow, 17, of Norwich, could crimp the wire, attach it to the black box with blinking red LED lights and then line it up inside a fiberglass cover, where it could be spotted easily.
But from the moment they entered instructor Thomas Cyr's shop one recent weekday morning, they went straight to work.
"I love the thought of designing and creating new machines and parts," said Salvagna, who has specialized in computer-aided drafting and design in his career at Norwich Tech and participated in a six-week internship last summer at Electric Boat.
The electrathon car that the class built together will race Friday, although Salvagna said he won't be able to witness it since he'll be on a class trip. But Cyr said Salvagna took the lead on his own time to design the fiberglass cover that fit over one end of the car.
"As a group, we talked about alternative ways of making the back and ended up learning about fiberglass and how to work with it," Cyr said. "Anthony did a lot of work prepping for the fiberglass and created a drawing for what the back would look like. Whenever he has an assignment, he jumps to it and figures it out. He's a pretty sharp kid."
Thuan Huynh, the school's CAD department head, called Salvagna a "go-getter."
"He's into the trade, so essentially he found his niche in what he wants to do in life," Huynh said.
Salvagna, who has a 92 average, is as modest as he is smart. He likes working in groups, he said, because there's more opportunity for diverse contributions to problem-solving.
"Some people think their way's the right way," he said in an interview after working on the brake light. "I'm not like that. If someone's trying to help me, I'll let them help me, because I know I'm not perfect. If something needs to be tweaked, I'll listen to everyone's input."
Salvagna has a lot of adult mentors who have helped him along the way - everyone from his parents to teachers Ed Hogan and Jill Menghi. Menghi gave him an appreciation for language and literature. Hogan organized an event where students helped sew sleeping bags for the homeless when Salvagna was a freshman and sophomore. "Mr. Hogan would go out and find people struggling and give them the sleeping bag," Salvagna said, "so I learned a lot about helping people."
The internship at EB gave Salvagna yet another mentor, one he prizes highly. Jake Roy, a piping senior draftsman, said he taught Salvagna how to help keep plans for the Virginia class submarine up to date so, as the ship was being built, the company could properly document changes.
"He was upbeat," Roy recalled. "He would get in here at 6 a.m. Not too many high school kids probably know there is a 6 a.m. And he was a hard worker. What we told him to get done, he'd get done. He was the type of motivated individual who wanted to do more and more."
For Salvagna, who hopes to snag a second internship at EB, the admiration is mutual. "He kept me busy," Salvagna said. "He showed me what to do. He showed me how the real working world was."
Salvagna, who likes to swim and fish for stripers with his dad in his spare time, plans to attend Three Rivers Community College for two years after graduating on June 17 and then get his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Connecticut.
He has also been a peer mentor, giving back by helping students struggling with bullying and other issues.
"We try to make sure (the students) feel they can tell us anything," Salvagna said.
Ultimately, Salvagna's work ethic will perpetuate further success, Cyr and Huynh said. As for Salvagna, he knows that's what it takes.
"It's very rewarding, at the end, when it works out perfect," he said, referring to the brake-light installation. "You can always learn from your mistakes."