Students Learn Entrepreneurial Skills & Applications of 3D Printing at High School Camp

If you have been following industry news, one thing that is repeatedly articulated in news headlines is the need for an educated, well
trained workforce that is prepared to meet the demands of a highly evolved, technologically charged workplace. “Right now the narrative is that most students get a four year degree, but what they lack are the skills to apply some of what they learned in school in real-world settings” said Allen Dyer. Dyer, who is a science and environmental science teacher at the School District of Hillsborough County, echoed what was outlined in a recent news article in USA Today regarding the need for almost 1.2 million technicians by 2034.

Offsetting the skills gap requires numerous strategies that are focused on building a pipeline of talented workers. One of the mechanisms that FLATE has employed over the years, and one that Dyer has been closely involved in, are the summer robotics and engineering camps for high school students. The camps are targeted to showcase real-world applications of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in high-tech manufacturing operations, and are geared to heighten students’ understanding and interest in STEM related topics.

This year’s high school engineering camp, which also marked the last week of FLATE’s summer camp season, took students on an in-depth exploration of some of the hottest technologies currently used in high-tech production environments. Dyer, who played an integral role in formulating the curriculum for this year’s high school engineering camp, stated this year’s camp was critical in “connecting the additive manufacturing/3D printing aspects and integrating it with a robotics component.” “A lot of the challenges that were presented to us were very unique” said Noah Woods. In line with the latest DIY and MakerBot trends, students were
assigned to 3D print parts for astronauts on a space mission and also 3D print parts for a robotic arm using Solidworks. Working in groups of three, students learned how to program an Arduino microprocessor to operate servo motors and used additive manufacturing processes to design a functional robotic arm that represented a prototype of a tool that could be used in space.

In addition to the technical component, this year FLATE partnered with Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs to introduce an entrepreneurial dimension to the high school camp curriculum that required students to design and manufacture a tangible product that could be marketed as well. This objective also matched ongoing efforts of some of the biggest corporate entities, like SpaceX and Made In Space, who are currently using 3D printing technology to make parts of a space engine, and/or exploring the possibility of using source material from another planet to 3D print parts for space shuttles.  Through these challenges “we were able to showcase self-reliant strategies that are not really farfetched,” and could potentially be used to offset manufacturing costs, or “market a product to companies involved in space explorations and futuristic colonization plans in space” Dyer said.

The high school engineering camp served as a practical example of how technology can be used to fund a creative idea and/or manufacture a lucrative product. “It is really different from the previous camps that I have attended” said Brandon Buchanan, a 11th grader at Bloomingdale High School. Buchanan, who was one of the many campers who attended FLATE’s robotics camps starting at the intro level, said the camp helped him understand the whole concept of 3D printing better and also gave him a better understanding of what it takes to be an engineer.

To get a first-hand perspective on how some of these 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies are being used in real-
world settings, students viewed an online presentation from Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. Students also toured Chromalloy Castings, a high-tech global technology company based in Tampa that heavily focused on using 3D printing in its production and/or manufacturing operations. “It is really cool to see how what we learn in the camp is being applied in real-world settings, and how you can problem solve to create new ideas and products” said Randolph Haley, 11th grader at Wesley Chapel High School who also attended FLATE’s robotics camps starting at the intro level. Angela Cigoranelli, who was one of three girls at the camp, also loved what she saw during the industry tour. For her the tour highlighted the importance of 3D printing as an integral part of the design process—one she noted required high degree of precision and accuracy. The tour to Chromalloy also helped Noah make a strong connection with the world of manufacturing. Noah, who aspires to pursue a degree in biological engineering at MIT, or work for MakerBot, met with one of the executives at Chromalloy after the tour and has been offered an internship next summer.  

Through it all the Camp inspired students to explore their creativity and explore the possibility to design products that can be mass
produced through additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping, and marketed to establish a lucrative business venture. The camp also served as an effective medium in not only showcasing applications of STEM in manufacturing and production processes, but positioning what they created into a marketable product. Feedback following the camp showed a remarkable impact. In post-event surveys conducted by FLATE, 92.3% of surveyed students stated they are likely to take an engineering, technology, or robotics related course in school next year. The same percentage also stated programming the robot helped them understand how automated systems are programmed and controlled. Approximately, 96.2% of the surveyed students said learning how to program the robot will help while solving STEM-related problems in school. The same percentage also stated the camp helped them better understand the applications of STEM in industry.

For more information contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit at www.fl-ate.org/projects/camps.html, and http://www.madeinflorida.org.