What do you get when you mix 3D printers, a never before used helicopter design from the internet and 18 high school students? You get “Maker Camp.”

The two-day camp at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski was made possible by funding from a Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) grant. LEAP grants, which are part of Gov. Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, are designed to increase opportunities for people to obtain a certificate or degree beyond high school that are directly connected with the needs of the workforce in their community.

This $970,000 LEAP grant is a partnership between the Gattis Regional Leadership Group, the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance and Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Pulaski (TCAT-P).

“Our LEAP grant is focused on engaging kids with their STEM classes in high school and with their career technology classes, and seeing them on into the workforce or into dual enrollment in TCATs or two to four year college institutions,” Dr. Cheri Thomas, Professor and Executive Director of the Center for Executive and Professional Development at Martin Methodist College, said.

“We want to get them and engage them young enough that they still have time to make that pivot and understand the importance of STEM and technology in their careers and obviously leading to better workforce preparedness for the region,” Thomas added.

For most of the students, this was their first time using a 3D printer. Even the small, desktop versions, can cost over $2,000.

“One of things we’re doing is printing out the basic design of the copter, what it is now, and we’re thinking about how to improve it by test flying it and brainstorming designs to fix faults with the original,” explained Jacob Ford, a rising sophomore at Loretto High School in Lawrence County.

Ford said he jumped at the chance to register for Maker Camp. “This is something that’s very interactive, which a lot of people need as the jump start. Whereas with standard math now, it’s just a sheet of paper and that’s not exciting for kids and some people who want to be hands on with things. 

Campers spent the first day getting the printers set up to print out the body of the helicopter and adding the additional components, like the battery and blades.

On day two, the focus turned to flying their creations…and fixing them.

“We’re trying to get the motors to work right, because they keep breaking off,” explained Brian Moore. Moore will be a ninth grader at Richland School in Giles County in the fall. 

Even though the copters were not consistently getting off the ground, Thomas believes students are still learning.

“This isn’t just about having a toy and flying it around,” Thomas said. “It’s about learning about 3D printing, learning about circuitry and controllers and wiring, so they had an opportunity to go through all of that. Then, when we ran into problems, they’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what was the nature of the problem, how could they be made better. That kind of learning, that kind of creative problem solving, is really the purpose of the camp. It’s not to build a toy and fly it. It’s to engage that problem solving frame of mind.”

Thomas says Maker Camp—which ran from June 25-26—was a big success and they hope to expand to include other curriculum, like electronics, robotics and circuitry, next year.

For Ford, this camp is just the beginning of his interest in 3D printing technology and what that might mean for a future career.

“Working with designs that’s a big thing, because it’s something I feel is very meaningful where you’re actually improving on something that can be used in the real world,” Ford said. “This is something I’m completely excited for and I want to do in my own life, as well,”

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