The five students in our first 3D ThinkLink Lab made up an unlikely team of trailblazers.
Not long ago, all of them said, they were “going down the wrong path” – getting into trouble, giving up on school and feeling like nobody cared about them. Each one made the life-changing decision to enroll in the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, where they learned about 3D design and printing in classes provided by the YouthQuest Foundation.
Thirty at-risk teens from South Carolina, Maryland and the District of Columbia completed the introductory course in June. From those classes, instructors chose these five young men to attend the first weeklong training session at YouthQuest headquarters in Chantilly, Va., Aug. 4-8.
For South Carolina Youth ChalleNGe Academy graduate Joey Clark, it was an “adventurous” week.
“We all come from different places, with different problems,” he said. “You didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a mystery.
“We started printing some stuff out, started having fun and then we all became pretty much brothers.”
The students’ main project for the week was to build a solar-powered walking robot and use 3D printing to customize it. In the process, they learned about creativity, problem solving and teamwork, said YouthQuest Director of Instruction Tom Meeks, who was delighted by how quickly the students pulled together.
Within hours, the 3D ThinkLink Lab was buzzing with activity as the students helped each other assemble their robot skeletons and troubleshoot problems.
“You really have to think when it comes to 3D printing because your first thing isn’t always going to work,” observed Joey.
He and fellow SCYCA grad Brice Lamb had to think outside the box when they discovered their solar panels wouldn’t produce enough power to make their robots walk. Joey came up with the idea of using a AA battery to run the motor. He worked with Tom to design and print a battery holder that attached to his robot’s back.
That led Brice to experiment with a smaller button-type battery from one of the electronic calipers the students used to take precise measurements.
“This is the kind of problem-solving skill we’re trying to instill in these young people,” said Tom. “We want them to know that when you reach a hurdle, you don’t just stop. You take a look at it, think about it and then come up with a solution to your problem.”
“Doing 3D taught me it’s OK to make mistakes because you can always go back and redo it,” added Jarrod Burley from Maryland’s Freestate ChalleNGe Academy.
“This has helped me so much,” said Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy graduate Daikwon Jones. “It gives you a chance to be yourself. It’s like an artist with a painting.”
The students showed off their creations during the annual VIP reception for YouthQuest’s leading supporters, held at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in McLean, Va., on Aug. 7. Getting to meet some of the at-risk youth they’re helping made a powerful impression on our donors.
“They are highly educated, successful, accomplished in their professions,” noted Tom, “yet they didn’t know as much about 3D printing as our students did.”
“CEOs, captains of industry, professional athletes, authors… were actually held spellbound,” Capital Guardian Information Systems Manager and 3D ThinkLink instructor Keith Hammond recalled with a smile.
“It made me feel special,” said Brice.
The reception guests were fascinated by 3D printing, added Jarrod, but many they said they didn’t think they’d be able to do it. “When I told them, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to,’ it amazed them,” he said.
Jarrod’s Freestate classmate Rashad Byrd, a sports fan who dreams of playing pro baseball, was amazed that he was able to spend time with two famous athletes in two days. He talked with retired MLB pitcher Pete Schourek about 3D printing – and baseball – at the VIP reception, then got a pep talk on the final day of class from sportscaster Rick ‘Doc’ Walker, who was a member of the Super Bowl XVII Champion Washington Redskins. Both of them played in our charity golf tournament, the Challenge at Trump National, on Aug. 11.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime. Stay focused on your goals and don’t get distracted,” Doc told the students. “Don’t ever let anyone make fun of you for trying to be successful. Knowledge is the key.”
The first 3D ThinkLink Lab experience was an eye-opener for everyone.
“All week, we’ve been creating stuff. We’ve been expanding our minds.” said Daikwon.
“I never thought I would be telling somebody to not give up and to just keep trying. If you mess up, just start all over again,” said Jarrod.
These five young trailblazers, who have started over and put themselves on the path to a better life, taught us a great deal during the week. Because of what we learned from their experience, we will be able to accomplish even more in the next immersion labs as we acquire more sophisticated 3D printers.