Back To (Ugh!) School

The vital spark may come from shop tools rather than books—or even from an inspiring challenge in a manufacturing competition. 


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I think a lot of educators need to be reeducated about education. News about the young man who recently won Mastercam’s Innovator Of The Future competition brings this to mind.

This national competition, sponsored by CNC Software, the CAD/CAM software company that produces Mastercam, is designed to entice students with a real-world manufacturing challenge—a project to be judged by a celebrity. Prizes include scholarship money and a trip. As the sponsor words it, the competition "provides instructors with a powerful motivational tool to get students excited about learning CAD/CAM software and the manufacturing process." This year’s competition asked students to design and machine a full-scale gas cap for a custom motorcycle built by Orange County Choppers, the reality TV show on the Discovery Channel. OCC’s lead engineer, Jim Quinn, served as celebrity judge of the entries.

The winner this year is Justin Amos, a student in the Advanced Manufacturing Program at Vincennes University, in Vincennes, Indiana. His winning entry was a cap featuring an F-16 fighter jet soaring over a stylized compass complete with a spinning brass arrow.

Apparently, Justin’s talents as a designer and machinist came to the fore in this competition. However, he is the kind of young person who, despite his gifts, reportedly hated school most of his life. Even some aspects of the university program left him unmotivated. This competition, however, truly inspired him. Justin told an interviewer that the real-world aspects of the competition, includiing meeting deadlines, adhering to specs and being responsible for both design and production, were deeply appealing.

Justin is fortunate. The competition provided just the spark to ignite his imagination. Far too many students in schools of all kinds never get that spark. Why? Seems to me that teachers and educators should make getting their students "fired up" their top priority. They should know that energizing the imagination is the key to learning. It’s what makes real education possible.

To me, the purpose of "real education" is to make life more enjoyable and fulfilling. Discovering that the world around you and within you is a source of joy and wonder is part of this. Discovering your talents and learning how to use them purposefully is part of this, too. This is the part that leads to genuine careers (life-giving occupations in either the workplace, the home or both). Right now, only the path to a 4-year college seems acceptable. That compromises a great number of students whose passions are not fueled by book learning.

I say to Justin, "Good for you! Keep the flame alive." Kudos to companies such as Mastercam and others that support innovative programs to motivate students in manufacturing. Kudos to the schools that make paths for students who are not destined to be academic scholars. Kudos to teachers, parents, voting citizens and elected officials willing to give schools the best direction.

More details about the competition are featured prominently in MMS Online’s CAD/CAM Zone. Find it at www.mmsonline.com/cadcam.