VIDEO: 3D ThinkLink Initiative on Display at USA Science & Engineering Festival

A Freestate ChalleNGe Academy Cadet in YouthQuest's 3D ThinkLink Initiative class 3D scans a young visitor to the Foundation's exhibit at the USA Science & Engineering Festival on April 26, 2014

Students in YouthQuest’s 3D ThinkLink Initiative classes got the opportunity to do some learning and some teaching at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, DC, on April 25-27.

The Cadets and teachers from Maryland’s Freestate ChalleNGe Academy and the District of Columbia’s Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy joined our Foundation’s President and Co-Founder Lynda Mann, Director of Instruction Tom Meeks and Communications Director Steve Pendlebury at YouthQuest’s exhibit booth.

“Everyone had a good experience here,” said Capital Guardian Cadet Alexander Cruz. “It was too interesting. You find things you would never think of.”

“I’m glad to be exposed to new things like this,” added his classmate, Cadet Daikwon Jones.

The 3rd USA Science & Engineering Festival was billed as America’s largest celebration of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Imagine a three-day school science fair that fills both levels of the Washington Convention Center, in which the parents helped make all the displays – and all the parents are geniuses.

Hundreds of children and adults stopped by our booth to see what our students are learning and to hear about how the 3D ThinkLink Initiative is helping them develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

“I got to see stuff I never saw before. I got to think in ways other than I usually think about how to solve problems using different types of strategies,” Capital Guardian Cadet Demetrius Morgan said.

With the help of our strategic partner, 3D Systems, we had students operate a Sense 3D scanner to show how multiple images are captured and stitched together to create the data file that is then turned into a plastic object by a Cube 3D printer.

The Cadets also helped small children assemble 3D-printed stackable beehive puzzles to demonstrate the concept of building objects in layers. They explained to the kids that bees are nature’s 3D printers because they make honeycombs by stacking up layers of wax in precise patterns, just as the Cube machine does with heated plastic filament.

“It was a good experience to talk to people about 3D printing,” said Freestate Cadet Daniel Mueller. “I have a better understanding of it now.”

When they weren’t staffing the booth, the students explored other exhibits and quickly discovered that they’re seeing the start of the additive manufacturing boom. The technology they’re learning about in class is quickly spreading to all sorts of industries, opening new career opportunities for those who have 3D design and printing skills.

Visitors who had been to the festival before remarked about how many displays included 3D printers this time. Just a year or two ago, the machines were a rarity. In fact, there were so many this year that a young boy asked one of our fellow exhibitors, “Is 3D printing the theme of this festival?”

It might as well have been.

However, there was also much more on display at the USASEF.

“One thing I found fascinating was the robots; how they built them, and how they use them for many things from just plain toys to defusing bombs for the SWAT team,” said Freestate Cadet Dakota Doyle.

The festival helped Freestate Cadet Kayla Coleman “learn much more about astronomy.” Her dream is to work for NASA.

“I never thought I’d be interested in science stuff like this” said Capital Guardian Cadet Daisha Allen. Being at the festival changed her mind.

In addition to learning more about STEM subjects, the students got to work on their presentation skills and practice speaking in public.

“It gave me more of the skills of talking to people because I’m not really used to it, but I know it’s something I have to work on. So it was fun for me to learn how to communicate with people better,” said Freestate Cadet Kayla McFadden.

Several visitors to our booth remarked about how poised and well-spoken the Cadets were – and what a good job they did working with the younger children.

It was clear, though, that there’s still a bit of little kid in these young men and women who are just weeks away from graduation. Asked to name their favorite activity at the USASEF, the overwhelming majority of Cadets said it was getting to eat graham crackers that had been dipped in super-cold liquid nitrogen.

To see why, watch this video from one of the STEM celebrities who appeared at the festival, Bill Nye the Science Guy.

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