2016-06-29 / Front Page

Engaging youth in technology

Upcoming documentary film highlights student engineering project
By Cameron Paquette

Lakota Blaisdell, 17, manually operates a CNC machine at the American Precision Museum's Working Machine Shop in Windsor. — CAMERON PAQUETTELakota Blaisdell, 17, manually operates a CNC machine at the American Precision Museum's Working Machine Shop in Windsor. — CAMERON PAQUETTEWINDSOR — In a cordoned area among the first-floor exhibits at the American Precision Museum in Windsor, 17-year-old Lakota Blaisdell works away on a CNC machine, designing a sign for the Working Machine Shop.

The museum, which was built in 1846 and holds the largest collection of historically significant machine tools in the nation, takes on between three and five interns from the area every summer since 2007 to learn about and demonstrate the historic machine tools to museum visitors. Interns in the Working Machine Shop go through a program with structured learning goals and metrics for school credit.

For Blaisdell, a Windsor High School senior, working with the equipment at the museum is a major help in his goal to become a machinist.

“I’ve always liked being destructive and creative,” Blaisdell said. “Milling is removing material to make a part.”

The blossoming partnership between the American Precision Museum, Windsor High School and the town is the subject of an upcoming documentary film highlighting efforts to give students the tools to explore engineering-related fields.

After receiving a $25,000 grant from the Gene Haas Foundation, the museum partnered with Edufactor, a promotional company that highlights stories and triumphs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, and a film company called FireTrigger Inc. on the project.

The Gene Haas Foundation is a private foundation committed to manufacturing education.

Sarah Rooker, Director of New Initiatives for the museum, spearheaded the project along with Windsor High School technology teacher Aaron Day and the museum’s executive director, Ann Lawless.

In addition to the Working Machine Shop, the film’s focal point is a submersible robot students in the high school’s technology class built to monitor sediment buildup behind the Kennedy Pond Dam. According to Town Manager Tom Marsh, the town has been active in maintaining and improving the dam since 2011, and discovered that silt and sediment backup prevents a valve in the dam from being able to drain water from the pond.

Marsh said the town usually pays in the region of $2,000 for a dive team to inspect and test the sediment. By using the robot, Marsh said the town could save $10,000 over the course of the robot’s lifetime.

“If we can send [a robot] down and get video of what’s behind the dam, that’s a low cost way of doing a check up,” Marsh said.

And if the students can learn about operating submersible robots while taking a sediment analysis to help the town, Lawless said “it’s a win win all around.”

“This project draws together science, technology, engineering and math in with a public service,” she said.

Marsh said the project is an outgrowth of a relationship started two years ago between the town, the museum and the school with the goal of increasing student interest in technological fields.

In working with the museum, students from Windsor High School have since gone on to compete in 3D Vermont, a competition where teams must create a 3D printed model of a historic building in their community, and won the last two years in a row.

“The idea is, what is technology today and how do we get young people interested,” Marsh said. “The timing is just right. There seems to be a significant movement in the education community about hands-on learning and applications.”

In Blaisdell’s two summers as an intern at the museum, he has taught himself how to program the CNC machine, which has led to him landing a one-year internship with North Hartland Tool that will turn into a four-year apprenticeship, he said.

“Teaching myself that here gave me a whole new edge,” he said.

“We’ve built a program with students in town over the past few years, and as the students mature, the projects we work on with them can get more complex,” Lawless said. “We’re thrilled to be working at this kind of a level.”

The film, which has the working title “Evolution of Manufacturing,” is slated for completion in September, and will be shown along with informational videos from Haas Automation, a CNC machine company that supports the museum, on a new viewing station.

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