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John, I suppose this is a good model to use the command: MeshToNurbs. What do you think? It makes some 'ugly' surfaces, but they are easy to fix up. And the nurbs model is very easy to remodel. Much easier than the mesh model which is what the obj file it. NOTE: The MeshToNurbs command makes a nurbs surface on each and every mesh surface. A lot of remodeling is required after the nurbs model is 'automatically' created.
I think there is a better approach to this model using Nurbs primatives, nurbs curves, and nurbs surfaces. If anyone needs a tutorial on how to do this, let me know and I will use parts of this 'pez' model to show you a method that will work for your students.