Six Steps to Building ROI Into Your Curriculum
3D Solutions – Return On Investment
One of the most effective ways to teach students is to give them projects and problems from real life. Here’s how you can offer your students usable career skills by creating partnerships with local businesses.
The first time Mike Bruggeman understood the power of business partnerships for his engineering students was when he had them work on a project for Klean Kanteen, a Northern California company that makes reusable water bottles and food containers. The owners were attending a community college class Bruggeman was teaching to learn how to use AutoCAD so they could develop sippy cup lids for a “kid canteen” line.
Bruggeman suggested they let his students at Chico High School in Northern California tackle the project. With a day of effort, the high schoolers had come up with potential designs, and a day after that, they had created prototypes on their 3D printer. The Klean Kanteen team brought their bottles into the school, tested out the lids and, impressed, agreed to sponsor the high school’s conversion from its education license for SolidWorks into a commercial version that would let them legally share their CAD files.
“That launched us,” says Bruggeman. From that moment on, the high schoolers could go to other businesses and offer similar services, giving students real-life experience in 3D design and prototyping, interaction with clients and other skills that have proven valuable in college and careers.
Pursue Partnerships only after you have ample experience
You can’t expect your first- or second-year students to be able to tackle professional design jobs. Save those for the older students. Experience is key.
In fact, advises Bruggeman, if you don’t have at least several years of teaching on the design software and working with 3D printing, it may be premature for you to go hunting for business partnerships. Why? Because “you can’t fail on these people, or they’ll get impatient with you and they won’t call you back,” he says.
Chico Unified School District has two high schools, Chico High and Pleasant Valley High, which have a combined attendance of about 3,700 students. Bruggeman and fellow instructor Tom Phelan teach nearly 500 students a year in their industrial technology courses— the biggest elective program in the district—and run regional occupational programs (ROP) in CAD drafting and architecture for juniors and seniors. Unless they’re part of an internship out in the field, ROP students meet for class two hours a day, and that’s when the commercial work is done.
Bruggeman says he “put a lot of miles” on his truck, visiting local companies, knocking on doors and talking to business owners. Although they’d say, “‘We’ll get back to you on that,’ we would never hear from them again,” he recalls.
Bruggeman struggled to parlay the success with Klean Kanteen into additional projects—until a local salesman and installer who worked for MJB Welding Supply, a company that serves the Chico region, offered to take him around to meet clients. “He had seen what we’d been doing. He saw the skill sets and the type of software and equipment we had. He felt comfortable enough to do that for us,” explains Bruggeman
Work your contacts
Selling student 3D printing services in your local community requires a huge effort by you and your students. Expect to hit up your own network, ask your students to talk with their family contacts, and go to your school’s supporter network to make inroads into the offices of decision-makers.
Bruggerman says he “put a lot of miles” on his truck, visiting local companies, knocking on doors and talking to business owners. Although they’d say, “‘We’ll get back to you on that,’ we would never hear from them again,” he recalls.
Bruggeman struggled to parlay the success with Klean Kanteen into additional projects—until a local salesman and installer who worked for MJB Welding Supply, a company that serves the Chico region, offered to take him around to meet clients. “He had seen what we’d been doing. He saw the skill sets and the type of software and equipment we had. He felt comfortable enough to do that for us,” explains Bruggeman.
Provide in-personal service
The advantage of working with local businesses is that they can visit the school in person to present the objects they want accessorized or modified with new components. This is important because it lets the students get involved at the beginning of the project. They become a part of the initial planning phase and can begin to do whatever reverse-engineering they require and study the setting where their parts will have to fit.
As an example, recently, a new client came into Chico High with his Can-Am Spyder, a three-wheeled motorcycle. He had designed a prototype for a wheelchair carrier that would fit on the motorcycle. What he wanted was a SolidWorks design file. The students set to work taking photographs and measurements from which to start their work.
Our students are very talented with computers,” notes Bruggeman. During the design process, if there’s a part that just doesn’t seem to be working, they’ll redesign it and print it on the 3D printer to give the client a better idea of what’s needed.
In another example, Woodzee, a wooden sunglass company based in Chico, was going to get its own 3D printer until the cofounder’s high school-age son convinced him to use the services of the ROP students. Now he brings his staff in to try on the sunglasses the students have prototyped, mark them up and tweak the drawings. “We keep going at it until they’re happy,” says Bruggeman.
Be Conservative About Timing
Use your industry experience when estimating how much time a project will take for students to finish. What you don’t want to do is give business partners less than they’re expecting.
When a job comes in, Bruggeman is upfront about finding out just how fast turnaround needs to be. “Things do go slowly at a school. We only meet for two hours a day,” he says. “I don’t want to be the one to hold them up. If I don’t think we can meet their deadline, we don’t take it.”
If a project runs longer than the estimate, he won’t take on any additional projects until it’s finished. “Sometimes I have a waiting list. People will say, ‘Hey, no problem! If you guys can get to us, we would love to have you do it. Just let us know.’” Involving students in the timeline creation and holding them to it is one way to make sure projects are completed on schedule. By enforcing deadlines students learn the importance of delivering on a business agreement in a reasonable amount of time.
Create a bartering system
Don’t expect monetary payment from your business partners. There’s something much more valuable than money that they can provide for your program: class mentoring and supplies.
Bruggeman estimates that the work his students are doing saves their clients “thousands” by producing 3D printed prototypes and parts. In return, “All we ever really ask is to keep supporting the students, give them the chance to learn and materials to do it with.”
For example, the students have worked extensively with Tim Dexter, whose company, Westside Research in nearby Orland, Calif., creates designs for automotive cargo gear. When they’re developing projects for Dexter (such as fasteners or collapsible mud flaps), he comes into the classroom weekly. His focus is twofold: to help the students improve their engineering skills by learning how to do research and rework 3D parts to work better together; and to help them improve the product’s functionality, look and safety to better satisfy the ultimate consumer.
The personal mentoring time is invaluable to students who are able to interface with a professional who is running a successful business—a kind of learning that students are not always able to get in a classroom setting.
Besides mentoring, Dexter also supplies material—filament—to keep the 3D printers running. That extra material lets Bruggeman’s younger students—the ones not yet in ROP—practice their design and prototyping skills as well.
Prime your students to work with business
The results of engineering classes cry out to be contained in a student portfolio, preferably online in digital form and maintained in a way that it can grow as a student moves through high school. One of the first assignments freshmen at Chico Unified have to complete is to write a resume. That starts their portfolio, which grows as they complete work samples.
Bruggeman has turned to website builder WIX, a service that lets people create sites for free. There, he maintains his own website (chsitech.wix.com/chsitech) and his students create their websites. Now, when students go to an interview related to their ROP work, they take a laptop computer and share their digital portfolios. “Business owners see that; they go ‘that’s impressive.’ They like that a lot,” he says.
He also has them document the processes they follow in their design and prototyping work, serving two purposes: That “tutorial” is used as curriculum by the next student to come along and tackle the same assignment; and it provides more portfolio fodder.
“We have turned the writing over to the students so they learn how to do technical writing,”explains Bruggeman. One recent project required a team of students to create a “functional hinge” in SolidWorks and then print it out “with the proper tolerances to accept the pin and perform correctly.” Once they’ve created a working prototype, they have to write up the process to help other students “achieve a successful outcome.”
Every one of the students in ROP for industrial technology at Chico Unified for the last three years has gone to college. Before they head out the high school door, they’ve already earned up to nine college credits. On top of the technical skills students have gained, adds Bruggeman, they’ve learned how to be dependable, communicate with adults and “get the job done.”
“The best students are the ones who combine their academics and a career pathway,” Burggerman says.