OPENING DOORS OF INNOVATION: Blowing Rock Students “Come From Nowhere”

OPENING DOORS OF INNOVATION: Blowing Rock Students “Come From Nowhere”
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“The Door” — Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

By David Rogers. May 16, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Dictionaries describe the idiom, “to come from nowhere” as “…happening suddenly and without warning.” That pretty much describes Blowing Rock’s GOATs.

COVER IMAGE: Members of the GOATs, the 3-D Printer club who entered their door in the Direct Digital Manufacturing competition hosted by the North Carolina Center for Engineering Technology sponsored by Concept Frames, Inc. Photo courtesy of Blowing Rock School.

When Jim McDowell and Charles Hardin of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce visited the North Carolina Center for Engineering Technology (NCCET) in Hickory last April, they were really there to get ideas for bringing more entrepreneurship to the Blowing Rock business community.  They got that and more.

During their visit, Randy Burns, Engineering Technologist at NCCET, told them about the Direct Digital Manufacturing competition sponsored by Newton-based Concept Frames, Inc. The 2016 competition was just finishing up. That started the Blowing Rock duo to thinking about how to get students at Blowing Rock School into the 2017 competition and what resources they needed.

The most important resource was a 3D printer, which was donated to the school last fall by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce with funds provided by the Herterich-Kennedy Fund of the Ethel and W. George Kennedy Family Foundation and channeled through the Village Foundation of Blowing Rock.

Evidently, the students knew something. They earned 2nd place in the middle school competition…

And then the 3-D Printer club was formed.   The students named themselves the GOATs, as a plural acronym for “Greatest of All Time.” Evidently, the students knew something about their potential because they earned 2nd place in the middle school competition on May 5th.  The Blowing Rock competition team consisted of a dozen 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade students, including Sam Brandon, Bryn Wilson, Lena Westwood, Harper Shanley, George Crumpler, Charlie Dalton, Abe Bachman, Vincent Troyer, Ava Cutlip, Gillian McCallister, Rachael Nelson, and Ellie Dickson.

Adult sponsors of the team included Rob Smith, Blowing Rock School; Michael Rall, Design Professor, Appalachian State University; and Jim McDowell, representing Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.

“They gave the students a scale model door,” Smith said in describing the project, “and they had to create hinges for the door, as well as a working latch with a key that could be removed. Originally, they said that 25 lbs. of pressure was going to be the minimum amount of pressure to push on the door. The door had to stop at 120 degrees, give or take 2 degrees.”

Asked what were the greatest lessons for the students, Smith didn’t hesitate.

The design process applies to everything. The lessons learned go way beyond what we do in the club and what they do in the classroom.

Blowing Rock School’s 3D printer was donated by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce with funding from the Herterich-Kennedy Fund of the Ethel and W. George Kennedy Family Foundation. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.

“So much of the (regular) curriculum,” said Smith, “is taken up by the core four large academic areas: including math, science, social studies and ELA (English-Language Arts). A lot of the technical stuff has been removed from the schools. Science and math still do some of the technical stuff, but mostly just the beginnings of it.

“This project and this competition,” the Blowing Rock IT professional added, “teaches the students to think outside the box. They have to go through the design process. They may have to go through it many times, before they learn to properly build what they want to build.”

Smith offered that it was important for the students to make mistakes, from which they learned.

“That was the hardest thing for the students to overcome because they wanted it to be perfect from the moment they first had their first design. But the design process is something that we continue to work on. It is actually more important because even though this was STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-oriented, the design process applies to everything. The lessons learned go way beyond what we do in the club and what they do in the classroom.”

Assessing Blowing Rock’s Accomplishment

Blowing Rock’s door compared very favorably vs. other doors from other schools. Photo courtesy of Blowing Rock School

“Blowing Rock came from nowhere,” said Randy Burns, the center’s Engineering Technologist, “to win second place in the middle school competition. When you consider that they did not compete last year and were starting from scratch just about six months ago, to me their performance was nothing less than stunning. Think about it. Six months ago they had no program at all, with no CAD (computer aided design) systems nor even a 3-D printer.”

“The competition was open to any school in Western North Carolina that had the wherewithal and ability to hear about it, but also to participate,” McNally noted. “We marketed the event to teachers who participated last year. They were in Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Alexander and Lincoln counties.

Blowing Rock’s performance was stunning. Blowing Rock came from nowhere.

“Last year was the first year of this competition,” McNally explained.  “Blowing Rock heard about it because of the visit by McDowell and Hardin to NCCET and their conversation with Randy Burns last spring.  The school came to us and we gladly included them.”

McNally and Burns told Blowing Rock News that 18 schools signed up for the 2017 competition and 12 actually completed the project. The other six dropped out for various reasons.  The dozen schools included a six-team middle school division and a six-team high school division.

“First place in the middle school division went to Happy Valley,” Burns said, “with Blowing Rock second. In the high school division, South Caldwell was first and West Caldwell placed second.  There were only two places awarded in each division, as well as first place overall, which was won by South Caldwell.”

Asked what the students found to be the hardest part of the project to tackle, Smith admitted, “Learning the CAD drawing is the hardest part, bar none.”

We’ve now had to start a second club for the elementary school.

He also noted some very important lessons in teamwork.

“What was really nice to see,” Smith observed, “were the different avenues of students to help out with the success of the project. Charlie Dalton, Lena Westwood and Rachael Nelson emerged as leaders.  Charlie took the lead on the hinge group, Lena on the latch group, and Rachael as the decorator/painter.  Rachael also designed our shirts, which were paid for by E.C.R.S. in Boone. Michael Rall from Appalachian State was instrumental in teaching the students CAD software drawings and helping clean up some online files as we got closer to competition.

“Calvin Boozeman, Elle Dickson, Gilliam McCallister, Charlie Dalton, Sam Brandon, Vincent Troyer,” Smith added, “were all extremely helpful and vital (our success could not have occurred without them) in getting the elementary club off the ground.  These students were instructors in their own right to teaching simple CAD drawings to elementary students and supporting the future participants of the 3D Print Club Competition Team.”

As it turns out, having a few extra teachers around may come in handy.

“The middle school program was so successful,” Smith nodded, “that a lot of younger kids want to get involved and we are having to start a second club for the elementary school. This year, we had one 5th grader on the competition team. The most we have had on any club day?  Over 20 kids have come in here to the computer lab and worked on CAD drawings.”

NCCET’s Burns seemed to reinforce Smith’s earlier admonitions about the technical stuff disappearing from school curriculum when he observed, “A lot of emphasis in education in recent years has gone to STEM in the nation’s school system, but most of that has gone to the science, technology and math parts of the acronym. Engineering has been largely left out.  Competitions like this Direct Digital Manufacturing program using 3D printers is an important step forward for the advancement of engineering. These students are our future.”

The Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce CEO, Hardin agreed. “Programs like this are multi-generational in their impact. These students will eventually graduate from high school and college. Certainly we hope that some of them will come back to Blowing Rock and apply the skills and knowledge gained from their education to businesses here. The more entrepreneurial of them will start businesses and grow our local economy.  That is the premise that we started with, that we needed to get students excited about things that make a difference to the world in which we live.  I can’t say enough about how proud we are of the Blowing Rock students and their advisors.  Imagine that, this is only their first year and they have only had the printer for less than six months!”





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