ISE works with middle-school and high-school aged students on CAD literacy
August 30, 2016
This summer, twelve-year-old Tabyous Little officially joined the Maker Movement.
Little is one of twenty middle-school and high-school-aged students who participated in a six-week CAD Literacy Program offered by ISE and local non-profit Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center (UNCC). Students learned the entire process of using computer-aided design technology to design and create objects of their choice in a University of Illinois computer lab.
“We could make anything we wanted,” says Little, who chose to produce a “spinny” top and a car.
Tynaiah McGhee, 11, also became a Maker, but did so on her own creative terms.
She saw the process as an opportunity to show her uniqueness, going out of her way to tweak some of the details of her 3-D-rendered house to ensure it wasn’t like the others.
“I didn’t make mine like the other kids did,” she says. “I kind of explored with it.”
Little says he enjoyed the “making” part of the process, but the broader impact the technology will have on his generation’s future was not lost on him.
“It could do a lot of good things,” he says. “I’d like to learn more about how it all works. How does the process go and how do they get it to actually make the stuff?”
Jim Leake, who developed the new outreach program with the support of the ISE department, says he is pleased it is already inspiring wonder and creativity in the young students – and believes it’s the starting point for something much larger.
“We hope there is an impact on even just a couple of these kids,” he says, “but this won’t be a successful agent of change for the community if it’s just a one-time deal. It’s vitally important and it’s something we’d love to keep going. This is something that can change lives.”
Leake already is thinking of ways to improve and expand the program to expose even more students to computer design technology, and has the full support of ISE Head Dr. Rakesh Nagi.
Leake says the intrinsic curiosity that drives the Maker Movement can itself be used as a new tool to show kids the direct connection between computers, design, and the products they use every day.
“We wanted to make this a tangible experience, a way to make a connection with the students,” he says. “All of a sudden, everyone can be a designer and everyone can be a maker, and it’s all connected to this digital information and knowing how to manipulate it.”
In addition to making toys, the students were introduced to facial-scanning technology and shown a documentary on the digital construction process behind a 3-D bust of President Obama.
Likhith Madamanchi, an ISE graduate student who assisted Leake, says he was amazed at how quickly the young students took to the new technology.
“Most of these kids have never been exposed to CAD before and yet were able to pick it up gracefully after just a few sessions,” Madamanchi says. “Kids were very interested in learning CAD to model objects from their own imagination.”
Abhishek Bada, an ISE undergraduate student assistant, says he was inspired by how the students wanted to take their newly learned skills in new directions.
“Once they saw a product of their creation, you could see their minds working to think of what else they could make, which I think is the most important aspect of CAD and 3-D printing – you can finally bring your imagination to real life,” Bada says.
Joey Lund, the other ISE project assistant, says he felt like the group had made an impact beyond the Illinois campus.
“The fact that the kids were so receptive really affirmed for me the importance of providing such an opportunity to them and to other kids who might otherwise never get a chance to learn those skills,” Lund says.
All of the assistants say they fielded several questions from the students, as well as their high-school-age chaperones, about the kind of degree needed to further study the technology.
Janice Mitchell, the UNCC’s executive director, says the students who went through the CAD Literacy Program are still talking about it – and hoping there is more to come.
She says the program fits nicely into the center’s after-school programs, which serve an average of 50 kids a day ranging from kindergarten to pre-college age. The center is supported by private donations and a host of community partnerships.
Mitchell says that just being exposed to the topics discussed in the CAD Literacy Program gives students a mental edge and mindset they might not develop elsewhere.
“These kids have had an opportunity to experience and be exposed to things that other kids their age may not ever get the chance to see,” she says. “That experience is so critical to kids at this age – to know what exists and what the possibilities are.”
The center already works closely with Illinois’s Fab Lab, which has helped supply three networked computer labs, as well as educational software and other academic opportunities.
Mitchell says the program through ISE is especially valuable because it provides students with a process that reinforces their capabilities, and an actual product they can hold in their hands.
“Our partnership relationship with the university has grown tremendously,” she says. “It’s important because this is more than just giving kids the opportunity to use a computer, it’s about providing instruction so they can use it as a tool. The volunteers from the university have really gone the extra mile.”
Mitchell says the sense of empowerment the program brings has the potential to become exponential.
“They will go back to school and talk about what they did this summer, and share their experience with other kids,” she says. “At this age, you expose them to that which is productive and healthy, and that will help prepare them for the future.
“These kids may be our next engineers, just because somebody lit that spark.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOANNA STRAUSS