EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE – Students with an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics can get hands on experience with modern workshop tools at Edwards’ new TechEd High School Makerspace which officially opened Jan. 29.
“Instead of making things like Pinewood Derby cars, for instance,” said Program Designer James M. Wang, “students will be making things like 3-D printed prosthetics, robot arms, electric vehicles, drones, custom clothing and pretty much anything you can name.”
The space in building 7210 is equipped with state-of-the-art 3D printers, laser cutters,3D design software, electrical engineering software and other tools.
“Visitors can come in and we’ll have volunteers here to train our visitors on how to use the tools and visitors will be able to take advantage of the materials and resources we have,” said Wang. “We’re also aiming to tap into the STEM ecosystem here at Edwards. What that means is we’re going to work with groups like the robotics team of the STARBASE program and other maker spaces here at Edwards to be able to help with volunteer training, provide custom workshops, share space and really be able to build connections in whatever way we can.”
An Air Force ROTC student at Stanford University, Wang first brought up the idea to 412th Test Wing Commander Brig. Gen. E. John Teichert in May 2019.
“When James briefed this idea to me several months ago, I slapped the table before he even said a second sentence,” said Teichert. “He is that compelling of a visionary for improving the lives of our family members here at Edwards.
“To me, this is an investment in our youth community here at Edwards as well as anybody that is base affiliated. James had this vision and created this capability in five spaces in the Bay area and he was willing to take a gap quarter from his time at Stanford to come open it up for us. This is an amazing capability for our students in this community, but it is also a template for what we should be able to do Department of Defense-wide for students on military bases throughout the DOD, and those students that are affiliated with those bases. So think about this as the first step in a long journey of creating and igniting a passion for STEM all around the U.S. in DOD facilities,”
An eight-week program will provide an introduction to a career technical education pathway.
“Students are going to learn to understand how the laser cutter works, how CNC machines work and just to get an overview of the technology,” said Wang. “In the weeks following, they’ll actually learn how to use the tools and be able to make designs. We’re prototyping our first year in these eight weeks for students. After I finished my quarter here, I go back and finish my education. I’ll be developing the rest of the curriculum for help from folks in the Graduate School of Education, and come back in the summer to keep developing and teaching it. The goal is to create a scalable curriculum that can be used not only here at Edwards, but also other bases in the Air Force Materiel Command, for instance, across the country.”
The modern workshop differs from the machine shops and wood shops of previous generations in many key aspects, not the least of which is safety.
“The way I describe it, is a 3D printer is as dangerous as a hot glue gun,” said Wang. “It’s basically a glorified hot glue gun. Laser cutters are about as dangerous as a home microwave.”
Wang is currently in a masters and undergraduate degree program at Stanford and will commission in the Air Force in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He hopes he’ll be able to transfer out to Edwards doing flight tests and said the space is about more than just engineering.
“One main function of this maker space is yes we’re a technical organization to help teach, but we’re also trying to be a home away from home for students. We have couches, we have space for students to do homework. We just really want this to be a comfortable place for students to come here after school, hang out and feel like a part of the family. We’re super excited to be able to open up today and be able to start classes next week.”
Makerspace workshops aren’t new to Edward, the installation currently has a few that are available to eligible patrons, but what makes the TechEd Makerspace unique is that it’s geared toward high school students and offers a three-year curriculum that’s deigned to develop the students.
In addition to the curriculum, Makerspace will have open hours on Fridays and Saturdays with volunteers that can train visitors on how to use the equipment.
Makerspace is just one aspect of continuing education available at Edwards, according to 412th Test Wing STEM Coordinator Helida Haro Vanhoy.
“This is just a part of all the things that we’re trying to do to involve all the local community within the base and outside of the base to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” she said. “I’m very excited because we’re doing lots of things to connect with our local students. - and when I say local I don’t mean just on base - I mean outside of the base, the surrounding districts around the perimeter of Edwards Air Force Base. We’re going to have a STEM field trip opportunity with lots of hands-on science activities on the ninth of October. It includes the Air Force Research Laboratory, the 412th Test Wing and it also includes NASA. We’re working on all this together to provide lots of science opportunities for the kids. Not only will they be doing hands on activities, but they will be able to meet a lot of employees that work here on base, all sorts of employees – engineers pilots mathematicians, scientists – so that the kids can talk to them and make a connection to learn about career technical readiness opportunities for them in the future.”
The Oct. 9 event is a kickoff event of the 2020 Aerospace Valley Air Show taking place at Edwards on Oct. 10 and 11.
In addition to school tours of the base, the Edwards STEM program offers speakers to talk to students on various topics.
“If a school contacts us and says, ‘Hey, you know, we need a female pilot to come and talk about flying,’ then we can do that,” said Vanhoy. “Because we want to make sure that we involve male, female, every race and gender possible. We need to expose our youth to the sciences without any barriers.”
For more information on STEM opportunities through Edwards, email 412TW.STEM.Workflow@us.af.mil
Wang was also presented with certificates of appreciation from representatives for California 36th District Assemblyman Tom Lackey and U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy during the opening ceremonies.