Education - Page 4 - Hands down, hands-on learning pays off

- Page 4
Hands down, hands-on learning pays off
Learning by doing is a valuable asset to college students

By Lisa Baldino, Contributing Writer

It’s one thing to be “book smart,” but quite another to actually be able to apply your learning to real world situations. Hands-on learning is today’s answer to students’ age-old question: Why is this class useful? These experiences promise to give students the edge in the job hunt.

At Anne Arundel Community College (AACC), students from a wide variety of disciplines are participating in the Land, Air, Sea Robotics (LASR) program, which includes a lab that houses drones. Jim Blanchard, an AACC faculty member and chief scientist at UAS Academy, says the lab is preparing students to think creatively about how drones can help in business. AACC is the third community college in the region to bring the program on board. “It’s an east coast groundswell,” Blanchard says, noting that the drone technology and the data it collects is being used in some very innovative ways.

For example, drone technology is used in golf to produce images of the course to see where water is going after a rain. Environmentally, drones can capture data on shore line erosion or coral reef restoration. They can also see debris in shallow waters after a hurricane and help make safety assessments for boaters. Drone technology is used in public safety to document accidents, monitor fire fighters and keep public venues safe.

“The technology for land, air and sea is all based on an open source auto pilot that costs less than $100,” Blanchard says. “The physics are different for land, water and air, but this allows students to do lab work and learn the different software and hardware requirements.”

Blanchard says AACC has been working with local businesses to structure the overall curriculum, which will be five courses at three credits each. “We started with a workforce assessment, and we asked businesses about how they use drones and where they fit into the business. We have some awesome students who engage in the process. They are at all stages of their careers – from a multi-million-dollar construction company owner to a recent graduate looking for his first job.”

Nick Kiraly is a senior business major at AACC and Drone Club president. He says he got involved with LASR for the opportunity to learn about solving environmental issues using new technologies. He intends to use his experience to launch himself into the drone data industry. “As a student, there is nothing more satisfying than using information learned in a classroom and translating it into knowledge from the lab. I can honestly say that since my time at LASR I have grown more than I could have ever imagined. It has been the single biggest return on an educational investment I have ever seen for the amount of time  spent. ”With intern and job opportunities flowing in, Kiraly says, “It’s very exciting to be a part of such a groundbreaking movement. Drones are the future.”

For Aili Wade, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at Frostburg State University, the future is additive manufacturing. Wade has already landed a job with Northrop Grumman in its design department, where she started as an intern. She will be making rocket parts.

Wade will be one of the first graduates to have taken additive manufacturing courses at Frostburg State. Since the first introductory classes in 2014, the class offerings have grown to include freshman engineering design classes, Computer-Aided Drawing classes and advanced classes for engineering capstones.

Duane Miller, lab manager for the physics and engineering program at Frostburg State University, says this past school year was the first year the lab went into the freshman class and introduced a design prompt that carried them through the whole process. “The prompt was a business card case that had to be STEM related. In the Introduction to Design class, they learned to work in groups and generate ideas. If they have 10 ideas, how do you pick the right one?”

The students can use the additive manufacturing tools to create, then get the product. They get an idea of the manufacturing process and the design process. The groups develop a sensible budget, time frame for production and a list of materials. Miller says the next group’s challenge prompt will build on the business card holder – a tool to house all types of fasteners. “We’ll leave the design up to them,” Miller says.

“Additive manufacturing doesn’t just benefit the worker,” Wade says. “You experience some real-life situations and you have something to talk about in internship interviews. It helps the candidates to stand out.”

Miller agrees. “The additive manufacturing piece makes Frostburg unique. We realized that A.M. was going to be a player in the design process. You can do it in pictures or copies, but you can also make models out of plastic,” he explains. The lab is student-run and each academic level has a different role, so that by the time the student graduates, he or she will have some experience in every area of the process, including outreach programs, project management, lab management and technical skill.

At Salisbury University, collaboration and location are the keys to real-life job experiences for students. The university has made it a point to be involved in the Salisbury downtown area, by opening centers that welcome the community. “We are a beacon of contemporary culture nestled in a community context,” says Elizabeth Kaufman, director of Galleries for Salisbury University.

The art gallery, one of three associated with Salisbury, was the first SU department on the downtown campus, Kaufman says. The gallery showcases artwork from professional artists, as well as student art from capstone projects at the end of each semester. Kaufman says the gallery has collaborated with the local Chamber of Commerce, partnered with various local businesses and worked with local restaurants for events held at the gallery. Students make up the majority of docents at the gallery.

“We want to be more of a resource to the community,” Kaufman explains. “We’ve started to offer workshops and camps for school children, and we’re working on a drop-in after school program. We see a community need for this.”

In addition to the galleries, Salisbury also has a robust program in business and entrepreneurship. Salisbury was also instrumental in getting a RISE (Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise) Zone in place – an area that allows businesses in the zone to benefit from property and income tax credits.

William Burke, director of economic development and entrepreneurial activities, says, “It’s all about collaboration. We have proven analytics that our collaboration works. Through our entrepreneurial competitions, we try to knock down the obstacles for these entrepreneurs by providing money for  prototypes, IT, inventory. We encourage entrepreneurs on campus.”

Burke says the RISE Zone is a stepping stone to Main Street. He also notes that the entire entrepreneur program is about creation of jobs. Within five years of the program, 90 percent of the entrepreneurs they backed are still in business. Of those 90 percent, the businesses reported 226 employees and revenues of $15 million.

Hands-on learning at its best. •