The scene on Wednesday morning in Alice Drive Middle School's library shows we're full tilt into the digital age.
A group of seventh-graders came into the library at 9:45 a.m. for a class in of all things AutoCAD.
That's computer-aided design …
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That's computer-aided design and a drafting software application.
David Tuders, an academic program manager from Central Carolina Technical College, was on hand and said the application is part of the field of engineering design and simply "everything that gets built gets drawn first in CAD."
Tuders wasn't just at Alice Drive Middle to talk to the 12- and 13-year-olds about AutoCAD, but he also actually recently developed an eight-week course on the computer application that 20 seventh-graders at the school are taking one day a week for 90 minutes. Also, he delivered a new 3D printer that the college is giving to the school for printing out its designed creations. The school's 3D printing lab in the library now has five such printers.
It's all part of an educational partnership that Central Carolina has developed with Alice Drive Middle and also Alice Drive Elementary School to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
By virtually all estimates, those STEM career fields are growing rapidly, offer solid pay and will become a bigger and bigger part of today's 21st-century high-skills economy.
The written curriculum for the course is in binders for the students and titled STEM: AutoCAD Class. As program manager over engineering design technology at CCTC, Tuders designed the curriculum. Coursework is split as 45 minutes of written curriculum and 45 minutes application on computers. Then, students get to print out their designs to the 3D printers.
In another collaborative effort, the college has a 21-year-old, second-year Engineering Design Technology major as the class teacher.
He's Keenan Miller, a 2016 Manning High School graduate.
Miller said he always had a creative side growing up and was interested in art. In high school, he said, he was directed away from the engineering field because math wasn't his strong suit.
Miller planned to go to Charleston Southern University after high school graduation and major in graphic design, he said, but the financial side didn't work out for him.
When he enrolled at CCTC, an admissions officer told him the college had engineering design technology, which is comparable to graphic design, and the rest is history.
The artistic or creative aspect of engineering design drove him to get better in his math courses, Miller said. Now, he's set to graduate in May with his associate degree and then plans to go to the University of South Carolina and finish off his four-year degree in civil engineering.
Miller said he enjoys having an impact on kids' lives and showing them "the fun parts of engineering" to include design and the 3D printing.
Six of the seventh-graders were sitting at a library table and discussed what they've learned so far about engineering design.
From reviewing a recent exercise, Brooklynn Fisher and Mikayla Blake said they now understand how to measure and determine mathematical dimensions that are missing from a drawing by the dimensions that are already known.
All agreed the weekly class, which started last month, has been fun and is teaching them what an engineering graphics designer does.
"It showed us another occupation that we could look into in the future," MacKenzie Toker said.
The program is part of a multi-year, multi-million-dollar grant that Sumter School District was awarded for use in its seven middle schools.
With the 3D printing lab and eight-week pilot program at the middle school, the college is trying to emulate what it already has in the field of study at its Advanced Manufacturing Technology Training Center on Broad Street, Tuders said.
He said he discovered AutoCAD and engineering when he was 14 years old and hopes the program can have the same effect on the middle schoolers as it did on him.
"Since that point in my life, I always knew what I was going to be when I grew up," Tuders said. "I've still got friends that are trying to answer that question, but I have always known."
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