On Friday May 17th, I had the pleasure of working with the AET Labs team again at Dig It. Fab It. Make It. 2019, the yearly digital fabrication expo for education held at WPI. Upon reflection of that day, I was struck by how amongst much uncertainty and angst in the world, one thing is for certain – how far women in STEM have come and how exciting it is as a female to see this generation of women students fearlessly grasp hold of the tech and training at their disposal and show it who’s boss. This was clearly illustrated by the results of the annual Extreme Redesign New England competition featured at the event.
For the second year in a row the 1st-place trophy went to young women! With their design “Shaking Things Up – A New Approach to Suspension Spectrophotometry”, class of 2020 students Allision Rozear, Maria Papademetris and Adalyn Schommer created a custom 3D-printed spectrophotometer design which will be able to be used by upcoming chemistry students. The three Sacred Heart Academy students told us their idea arose from the challenge of obtaining a cost-efficient way of measuring light in a solution in their chemistry class. The clincher is that these innovative young scientists are not studying with a goal of being engineers (though clearly, they could easily go that route!), but with vision, and the power of CAD and 3D printing at their disposal were able to engineer a tool to use in their classroom. Check out the explanation of their ingenious design here:
Thinking upon the soundbites of the day, I was struck by the contrast between the experiences of Michael Bastoni, the inspirational veteran engineering instructor from Plymouth North and our keynote speaker, MIT instructor and mentor Shreya Dave, PhD of Via Separations.
In a lively, motivating presentation, Bastoni relayed to the audience how important seeking out mentors is to future success as innovators and makers. He recounted how a cross-country road trip with buddies back in the 60’s was formative to becoming confident with mechanics and how things work. He told how witnessing his grandfather’s knack pull apart and fix anything, encouraged him to do the same.
Ever a forward-thinking educator, Bastoni admitted he “didn’t get” the crucial importance of computers in the classroom back in the 70’s or the advent of the internet in the 90’s. Breaking from his past hesitance, Bastoni became an early adopter of digital fabrication technology. He encouraged instructors to basically take the bull by the horns and embrace the empowering tools of 3D printing and Solid Modeling, stressing that they will be the impetus to major developments in education going forward. He also urged instructors to incorporate lessons that featured the kind of “engaging complexity” necessary to be truly memorable.
Keynote speaker Shreya Dave’s engaging presentation focused on her experiences as a young student at MIT, sharing a trajectory that included high points and very low points. She recounted her initial struggles in an engineering class feeling unequipped to handle the tools and tech in the shop, whereas her male counterparts seemed very comfortable. Frustrated and disillusioned with the class she felt defeated, ultimately deciding to withdraw from a robotics competition because her robot wouldn’t work. Deeming her work in the class as a failure, she even refused to invite her parents to attend the competition to witness her letdown. Dave expressed that she wished she had been exposed earlier to tools and hands-on mechanics, and been encouraged to take things apart at a younger age.
I’m sure many women in the audience, myself included, related to Shreya’s early experience with hands-on engineering and tech. Back in middle school, I remember raising my hand throughout the entire class to ask questions about coding to my computer-ed instructor. Quickly I realized he was only interested in answering the questions of an elite few male “computer whizzes” in the corner of the classroom, so I focused my attentions back to my “Oregon Trail” journey. I internalized for a long while that I wasn’t “very good with computers or tech.” (Noted, this is not indicative of the experience every young woman of the 80’s and 90’s, but waaaay more common than today.)
All that said, Shreya really brought home the point that our struggles, while in the moment may seem like a setback, are just as important and formative as our triumphs. In fact, she relayed to the audience how 10 years later she ironically ended up teaching that class she hated and felt she failed at so miserably as a new MIT student. Like Bastoni, Dave highlighted the importance of mentors in her life, siting the encouragement of her friend and colleague Tasker Smith and teachers Mr. Griffin, David Wallace and Jeff Grossman as helping coach her in her journey as a maker and scientist. As CEO of Via Separations Shreya, is merging her knowledge of engineering honed at MIT with her expertise in chemistry to develop a groundbreaking molecular filtration technology for industrial processes that will prove to be a game-changer in the quest to battle climate change and the environmental hurdles we face today. What a brilliant role model for students like our team of young innovators from Sacred Heart Academy!
As a mother of a young daughter, I thank these young women and today’s educators who are encouraging by example and mentoring the next generation of girls to be fearless with digital fabrication technology and tools, and to undauntedly tear things apart and figure out how they work. It warms my heart to see my daughter’s face light up when she finds something broken in the house and asks, “Can I fix it?” “Yes, you can kid. Yes, you can.”
Brie Yarbrough is a marketing designer with a passion for art, design and STEAM education. When she’s not curating content at her computer, you can find her micro-blogging on Instagram (@brie.yarbrough) and occasionally messing around with a paintbrush, pastels or clay.
With Gratitude . . .
The team at AET Labs would be amiss not to thank our amazing round-table panel of digital fabrication gurus from across New England who are motivating today’s students to become tomorrow’s engineers: Michael Smutok, Uxbridge High School; Sean Callanan, Northeast Metro Tech; Brian Plouffe, Regis College; Thomas Vagnini, WPI and Eric Schimelpfenig from the Stoneleigh Burnham School in Greenfield MA. The Dig It. Fab It. Make It. crowd thoroughly enjoyed hearing your insightful advice and experiences!
To our friend Gina Scala from Stratasys, we are grateful for your first-hand insight into how our students can prepare more thoroughly to develop the additive manufacturing skills industry needs now. The crowd really enjoyed getting one of the first demos in the country of the unparalleled F120 machine.
We are grateful to our friends at MakerBot for their generous donation of a Replicator+ printer for the school of our winners at Sacred Heart Academy in Connecticut and for Matt Turnbull for coming up from MakerBot HQ in Brooklyn to present with us and demonstrate the new Method desktop 3D printer. We can’t wait for schools to experience how seamless this machine makes their 3D printing experience. Kudos to Engineering Technology Instructor Robert Pinsker from the Engineering Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) in Connecticut for winning the raffle for a 2nd MakerBot Replicator+ for their school.
A giant shout out to our friends at FESTO for donating a Bionics4Education robotics kit. We are delighted the B4E kit found a home in the Jubilee Career Center’s new STEM School Bus and will introduce the wonderful world of bionics to countless Worcester area students. Thank you to Darrell Dayton from FESTO for demonstrating this incredibly interactive robotics kit that will help instructors integrate bionics education into their curricular in a meaningful way.
Thank you to our friends at Creaform 3D, Techno CNC solutions, DiWire, Autodesk, the Boston Society of Architects (MakeTANK) and GrabCAD for demonstrating the empowering capabilities of their digital fabrication tech to our New England community!
A big congratulations to our 2nd place winner Jeffrey Gibbs of the Pomfret School in CT for his “Gryph Guard” design and to our 3rd place winner, also from Pomfret School, Nacho Riera Contreras for his “Whiteboard Marker Holder” design. We were blown away by the design ingenuity and poise of all the students who presented this year! Thank you for entering, and best wishes to all of you in your future endeavors!
We want to wish Michael Bastoni a wonderful and well-deserved retirement! We’re so grateful to have you as an honored speaker at Dig It. Fab It. Make It.- a truly poignant swan song for an inspiring mentor to so many!
We are immensely grateful to Shreya Dave for presenting at this year’s event. We look forward to following the upward trajectory of Via Separations and are excited to have introduced you as a mentor to many of the young engineers in our audience!