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Talking About The Next Generation: Taking The Latest Tech To The Classroom

Liz Wishaw
September 13, 2019
Educator Jessica Hughes knew the girls in her classes were smart, but they were underperforming when it came to science and math. Her solution? A 3D-printing club that would inspire them to develop innovative solutions to problems like saving the coral reefs and creating a potential prosthetic limb for a classmate.
She’s just one of the forward-thinking educators around the world looking to expose K-12 students to science and technology through interactive 3D-printing projects, workshops raising the next generation of digital workers, and hands-on programs that teach robotic welding and manufacturing. GE and its employees have been backing some of these programs. Here’s a list:


Girls Just Want to Have STEM

 width= Top and above images: Jessica Hughes’ STEM classes benefit from the GE Additive Education Program. Students are presented with a challenge they address by creating a 3D-printed object, such as “Tinkering With Turbines.”  Images credit: Jessica Hughes.

Aware that women hold fewer than 30% of professional science and engineering jobs, Ohio educator Jessica Hughes decided to take action: She started a 3D Girls Printing Club. In just three years, Hughes has won about $25,000 in grant funding to build an extensive 3D-printing program where students meet once a week after school to learn computer-aided design (CAD) and work on the 3D-printing projects of their choice. And, in 2017, Hughes received a grant from GE’s Additive Education Program (AEP), an initiative created to introduce K-12 students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through interactive 3D-printing projects. The program includes a cloud-based portal with three years’ worth of curriculum and learning tools, 3D-printing materials and a brand-new 3D printer. “It’s taken what we were doing to the next level,” says Hughes. While Hughes has applied the curriculum to nearly every facet of her STEM program, she’s happy to see the knowledge her female club members are picking up spilling back into the classroom. “They have big hearts and they are caring,” says Hughes. “They want to use their math and science and STEM skills to have an impact on the world.”


Their Future Looks Brilliant

 width= Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes told students about the many ways technology is used by the Celtics organization during an April visit to George Keverian middle school. Image credit: Boston Celtics.

Advanced manufacturing tools, programming software and … the Celtics? Yep, all courtesy of the Brilliant Career Play mobile lab. For the past three years, Boston-area students have been exploring the possibilities of STEM through this lab, which — along with its high school companion, Brilliant Career Lab in Boston Public Schools — was created by the GE Foundation through partnerships with the Boston Celtics and The Fab Foundation. It’s part of GE’s $50 million commitment to support the development of the next generation of digital workers.

On an April visit to George Keverian, a public middle school outside Boston, eighth graders got future STEM career exposure that included a circuit-making project — and a visit from Celtics center Aron Baynes, local hoops legend Dana Barros, Celtics mascot Lucky and Jennifer Edwards, a director at the GE Foundation. Baynes described in detail how the Celtics organization uses technology, from activity-measuring devices on the players to how the training staff uses various technologies to get players in peak condition. “There’s a lot of different things and they all have to do with technology,” he said. “I wish, when I was in school, I had the STEM lab you guys have.”


Sparking Interest for the Next Generation

 width= “I like building things and making something out of nothing,” say 17-year-old Cameryn Aykers. He studies at the Greene County Career Center. Image credit: GE Aviation.

Cameryn Akers spent half his days in April studying math, English and social studies. The other half was where the sparks flew: He and his classmates were learning welding and metal fabrication at Ohio’s Greene County Career Center as part of a GE Aviation partnership to train the next generation. Welding and metal fabrication have become one of the high school’s most popular career tracks, and it’s a skill that is only growing in importance. And an upcoming 2020 expansion will update equipment and space for students to learn robotic welding. Manufacturer Unison, a wholly owned subsidiary of GE Aviation that makes parts for jet engine fueling, heating and cooling systems, is just one of the companies looking to hire these career center graduates as the demand continues for their next-generation products. “When we talk to the industry, they want welders that understand robotics,” says Brett Doudican, curriculum specialist for the career center. “That’s worth a $10-an-hour raise in some places.”


Battle of the Bots

 width= Competing robots had to collect rubber boulders, maneuver past obstacles and fling the projectiles at the opposing team’s stronghold. Image credit: FIRST Championship.

Where can tens of thousands of students from more than 70 countries engage with fearsome robots in medieval-like battles? At FIRST Championship, a robotics contest created by the legendary inventor Dean Kamen in 1995 to promote science and engineering education and innovation. As part of the contest, robots have to collect rubber boulders, maneuver past obstacles and fling projectiles at the opposing team’s stronghold — and no two robots are alike. Teams are required to use the same base parts but rely on their insights and resourcefulness to design additional components, often applying the latest technologies like 3D printing and CAD modeling. And thanks to thousands of hours of mentoring by GE employees every year since 1998, kids as young as 6 and as old as 18 have competed at four different levels of FIRST — from elementary school children constructing Lego structures to teenagers building sophisticated robots in the FIRST Robotics Competition, the most advanced of the contests. “When I see the teams at the FIRST Robotics Competition competing with each other, I think of those kids as being the next generation of researchers,” says Lynn DeRose, a principal investigator at GE Global Research. “They’ll be taking my place.”