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Engaging Students is Key

June 22, 2008

Filed under: additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education — Terry Wohlers @ 13:35

The U.S. has dropped to tenth place worldwide in high school completion, according to the September 2007 issue of Manufacturing Engineering. In 2004, the average annual income for a high school drop out was about $16,500, compared to more than $26,000 for a graduate.

What can be done to reduce the problem? One idea is to offer more opportunities for hands-on activities that engage students. Some kids do not take well to textbooks and lectures. A number of these same students excel with the right conditions. In the May 22 issue of Machine Design, editor Leland Teschler explained that a kid with a 1.9 GPA became a 4.0 student when he began to apply concepts in hands-on courses.

Teschler went on to discuss Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a program that introduces middle and high school students to applied engineering concepts. One PLTW instructor explained that kids have fun because they don’t know they are learning physics, Teschler said. The hands-on, project and problem-based approach adds rigor to technical programs and relevance to traditional academics, the PLTW website states. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Education Foundation has partnered with PLTW.

PLTW educators are typically former industrial arts/education instructors and many of them now teach CAD. Some of them are beginning to bring additive fabrication (AF) and 3D printing into their courses, which is a perfect fit. The kids develop skills in conceptual design, modeling, and experimentation and then “print” their work in 3D, giving them a chance to touch, evaluate, and test their designs.

I hope that schools throughout the U.S. adopt AF. It will allow kids that are academically challenged a chance to shine in an area that has a bright future. If it does not lead to an engineering degree, that’s okay. Rewarding careers in AF do not require a four-year engineering degree. Examples are operating AF equipment or finishing parts, selling or servicing AF machines, CAD software, or laser scanning systems, or serving as a sales agent for a service provider. What’s more, these are financially and professionally gratifying positions that are important to the future of the U.S.

1 Comment

  1. In the early 1990s, I started a subsidiary medical manufacturing plant in Switzerland for its parent company in Minnesota. I had the opportunity to hire new employees and most of those had completed nine years of schooling then went into an apprenticeship program for two to four years. My technical guy had a double apprenticeship and purchasing woman had a commercial apprenticeship for two years at the local bank. Neither had experiences in medical manufacturing.

    I learned that nine years was obligatory then based on student’s aptitude and desires could choose to continue with high school and college, go through a canton sponsored apprenticeship program, or quit school. What I thought was interesting is that those who went through apprenticeship were very good, and very smart.

    The apprenticeship does not take a student completely out of school. They are required to attend classes once a week. They are also given a small monetary stipend for their work, which increases somewhat over the program. Something like $500 a month, which is very little in Swiss wages. They have specific assignments and not janitorial duties. There is a specific program.

    There are several benefits.
    + Host company – this has to be a net plus for not having to pay full wages and have someone who is engaged four days of a five days a week. There are overhead costs of holding formal class once a week and possibly medical benefits. I am unsure of the details.

    + Employer (me) after they complete. I could hire a person at entry-level wages with two or three years of corporate experience. What a winner that is. Corporate experience may or may not be completely relevant but the fact that they had to hold a schedule and produce is a step in the right direction. My employees were smart, offered their ideas right from the beginning.

    + For students who decide academia is not for them, they become engaged by gaining hands on experience plus the monetary incentive. It is very possible other maturing benefits are derived.

    In American, I am unfamiliar with the laws on 13-15 year old apprentices. In California, the employer must hire the apprentice. In Switzerland, the host companies do not employ the apprentices and the apprentices have no expectations of being hired by the host company.

    In my opinion, there is harmony between those who want to become a Ph.D.s and those who are just as happy being productive. Such a program supports those who cannot master the academics yet still utilizes their talents in way needed by society. I am certain there can be better ways of giving students a choice in life.

    More detail:

    Comment by ULarryO — August 6, 2008 @ 14:08