One Way to Impact the Community

May 13th, 2014:

In an ideal world, students around the nation would enter each next grade at the same level as their peers, with access to the same classes, teachers, resources, etc. such that upon graduating high school, each has the same chance to pursue their goals as the next student. Unfortunately, we know this to not be true; setting aside the disparity between a students’ actual grade level and the grade he or she is entering, due to various circumstances, the curriculum students encounter is not always up to date with the technology of today. To help bridge the gap, I’ve attempted to come up with some basic curriculum for students that introduce them to what we as product development engineers do on an everyday basis, and pitched it to a local middle school. As of now, we are still in the development stages before debuting it in a class, but the idea has been more or less positively received and has the green light. In the event that you are interested in doing something similar, here are some tips on making your own impact in the local community.

First and foremost, just like in product development, before you invest your time and capital, there must be a need. Talk to the school you are interested and find out who the movers and shakers are, as well as what needs they have. Are certain classes related to your profession completely missing from the curriculum? Are some behind the times? Is one teacher doing a great job, but doing the job of four teachers and needs a hand? To have the most success, your idea, no matter how great, has to fill a need for time and budget strapped schools.

Determine what elements of your profession you want to implement. In product development, the answer is easy: get the students to approach problems like an engineer. In my instance, the end goal is for students to create a catapult, but the most important part is the process by which students get there. Engineers brainstorm, sketch, perform initial calculations, prototype, test, modify, and present their creations, and the goal is for students to do the same.

Keep in mind the external considerations, such as the budget available (can they afford to pay for a basic 3-D printer, should you focus on paperclips and cardboard, or is it somewhere in between?) as well as the level of the students participating in your project. Flexibility is key; if you are rigidly set on teaching students a certain set of calculations, but the class is either too advanced for it or not advanced enough, you could be unintentionally keeping them from learning as much as possible.

Finally, have fun! If you’re taking your own time to give back, do it for something you believe in, something that makes you happy.

- Mechanical Engineer Ajay Patel, Goddard Inc.