CHALLENGING YOUNG MINDS

ENTREPRENEURIAL PATHWAY TO OFFER STUDENTS OPPORTUNITIES TO ‘MAKE A DIFFERENCE’

| 2014 Q4 | story by MARK FAGAN    | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
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Lawrence High School seniors Zak McAlister & Nate Hulse

Someday, Price Morgan wants to build a concussion-proof helmet to protect his football teammates from head injuries. Nia Rutledge aspires to develop a revolutionary personal health device, one that can scan the human body for anything from a cold to cancer.

But today, these classmates at Lawrence High School are staring at a more immediate problem: a brown paper sack filled with tape, twine, paper clips and other stuff you might find in the bottom of desk drawer – materials they must use to steer, stop and move a pushed marble through a series of assigned tasks, relying on nothing more than the collective ingenuity of students in Room 141.

Rutledge doesn’t blink. Designing and assembling a contraption in the classroom just could be the next step to one day changing the world.

“I have high hopes for myself,” Rutledge said, her 16-year-old mind turning. “And if you can’t work with the basics, how can you be expected to work well with more elaborate substances?”

Just wait till next year.

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Engineering Design Class teacher Charlie Lauts works with junior Price Morgan on solving the problem at hand.

Rutledge and Morgan, now busy in their Engineering Design class at LHS, will be among other juniors and seniors able to enroll in decidedly more high-tech coursework in August, as several new career-readiness programs begin at the Lawrence school district’s new College & Career Center in southeast Lawrence. Among the pathways will be an entrepreneurial track, an outlet for students looking for hands-on experience designing, building, creating and otherwise preparing for a real world where innovation increasingly is in demand.

Students will identify problems, brainstorm solutions and, eventually, build prototypes.

“It may be a product,” said Patrick Kelly, the district’s Director of Career and Technical Education. “It may be a service. Who knows? It’ll be letting them set their own course. It’s for them to figure out.”

Already envisioning concepts is Rutledge, a junior who will have enough credits to graduate this spring but plans to stick around LHS for a chance to flex her creativity. She likes the idea of advancing the smartwatches of today into the most ubiquitous of wellness devices for tomorrow.

Remember those hand-held body scanners in Star Trek? Now imagine something smaller, sleeker and available for use by more than a starship’s doctor – think everyone, everywhere and as often as anyone would like a checkup.

“I know that I want to have an impact on the world, no matter what I do, but I have so much to learn,” she said. “I think that given the right materials, and the right instruction, I could definitely create an idea for something new that could make a difference.”

Make it Work
At LHS, Rutledge and her classmates in Engineering Design are already learning how to put ideas to work and finding that it’s not always easy. Take their assignment for manipulating the marble using only the materials given to them:

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‘Making it Work’

12 inches of ½-inch-wide masking tape
6 inches of twine
Four sewing pins
Three straws (the kind used to stir coffee)
Two paper clips
A 6-by-9-inch piece of paper
A one-egg section cut from an egg carton
A 5-inch-long strip of ½-inch-thick Styrofoam

Teacher Charlie Lauts ramps up the pressure even more by asking students, after having worked on their contraptions for 30 minutes, to trade places with someone else. Thirty minutes later everyone switches yet again – picking up where someone else had left off, working from a different set of plans and, in all likelihood, moving in an entirely different direction.

Think. Adjust. Attempt. Repeat.
“You’ve got to make it work,” Lauts said, who has been teaching engineering classes at LHS for more than two decades. “It’s about adversity. You’ve got to be innovative through adversity.”

The creative process promises to be even more challenging for budding entrepreneurs at the College & Career Center, but they’ll be advancing their efforts by identifying real-world problems to solve, not just trying to keep a marble on track.

Morgan, a Lions linebacker and tight end who wants to develop a safer football helmet, already knows one problem he’ll need to solve: finding time for the class. Enrollment at the center likely will require a three-hour window, and he’ll need to work around weightlifting and other classes.

He wants to line up a concept, perhaps using titanium, that could improve safety on the field.

“You hear that line all the time: Find a way to make the world a better place,” Morgan said. “I want to come up with a cool innovation that can make a difference.”

Resources Abound

Students bringing their ideas to the center will find plenty of support. More than 100 engineers, designers, managers and others are volunteering as mentors as students develop business plans, devise marketing strategies and even create prototypes using 3-D printers, laser cutters and other equipment.

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Junior Nia Rutledge taking up the Marble Challenge

The raw materials are available, Kelly said. The students’ energy will make all the difference.

“I hope they come up with great, innovative solutions,” he said.

Rutledge is expecting nothing less. She’s confident that the students of today will be making the major discoveries of tomorrow. She figures that the history books one day will refer to these times as the “Technological Enlightenment,” judging by the speed and breadth of recent advancements and the promise of what’s to come.

“I definitely want to do things that are useful,” she said. “Whatever I create will be around a lot longer than I will.”

Kelly has good news for Rutledge, Price and any other student who put their ideas to work next year at the College & Career Center – there won’t be any need to call an attorney.

“The students will own their intellectual property,” Kelly said. “But when they get rich, I just hope they give the district a nice gift.”

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