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Shelf dreams

Photos by Evan Krape

Elena Delle Donne designs shelving for UD’s tuk tuk mobile lab

In its first year of operation, the University of Delaware Center for Experimental and Applied Economics’ tuk tuk mobile laboratory had been doing a great job of drawing people in to participate in the center’s research. There was just one problem – it lacked the appropriate amount of display space to show off the materials, such as fresh produce or oysters, associated with the various studies being run out of the vehicle.

Because of this, Kent Messer, the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment, director of the CEAE in the University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), reached out to Blue Hen alumna and current WNBA star Elena Delle Donne to help design shelving for the experimental laboratory.

Delle Donne started her woodworking company DelleDonneDesigns with Amanda Clifton and Megan Gainey after getting positive feedback from one of the coffee tables that they designed and posted on Instagram.

“When I saw tables made by Elena, Amanda, and Megan, I thought they were creative and beautiful.  We needed some shelves that would make for an attractive display. I’m also a big fan of women’s basketball and have been following Elena for years when she played in high school in Wilmington, and then went on to star at UD, in the WBNA, and with the US gold medal winning team,” said Messer.

Delle Donne said the shelves in UD tuk tuk are made out of pine and were wood-glued together to make them sturdy. They also mitered the edges and put a border on the shelves.

“It was pretty simple. Once you get the wood all you have to do is really sand it, stain it and then miter the border – that’s what probably takes the longest,” said Delle Donne.

As for her impressions of the tuk tuk, Delle Donne said that she had never seen one before and had to Google it before arriving on campus to meet Messer, members of the CEAE lab and the tuk tuk itself.

“This is my first time seeing it. I love it. It’s really cool. I like the UD colors, and the shelves look nice in there. It’s always great when I can do anything to help out the University. It was exciting for us to put together and it’s exciting whenever UD reaches out,” said Delle Donne.

Prior to the shelves

Before the installation of the shelves, the tuk tuk used makeshift items such as an old television stand or baskets stacked on top of one another to display items. To support the new shelves, designer Nick Valinski created an aluminum structure that can be shifted around, change angles or transform to match the current needs and goals of the researchers.

Maddi Valinski, lab manager for CEAE and program administrator for CBEAR, said the shelves will be a huge help in setting up the tuk tuk for experiments.

“This will make it so setting up a display in the tuk tuk is just plug in and play essentially. The shelves are flexible — they can be tilted on different angles if we need them to. They can fold completely down or we can take them out entirely if need be for a particular experiment set up. There’s a lot of different flexibility with it, which will provide a benefit to us in that it saves time and it looks more professional and approachable,” said Valinski.

Year in review

It’s been a busy year for the tuk tuk, which was unveiled last year at Ag Day.

It has traveled everywhere around Delaware from Newark to the First State National Historic Park to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.

It also has traveled outside the state including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Ag Outlook Forum in Arlington, Virginia, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Georgia.

Not only has Olympic gold medal winner and WNBA MVP Delle Donne gotten behind the wheel but so have dignitaries such as Gov. John Carney, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and even the University's mascot, YoUDee.

“The response to the tuk tuk has exceeded even my wildest hopes. It has not only helped us recruit a more representative sample of the public for our research but has also been a fun way of showcasing the innovative and important work we are doing at UD. Who knows where it will go in its second year,” said Messer. 

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