In the beginning of this past school year I was approached by Ryan Kennedy ’19, who had a lofty goal. He had recently rescued a rusty, old, barely-functioning bike from a dumpster and wanted to recycle it into a battery-operated, electric bike capable of sustaining speeds of 25 miles per hour, for a nominal cost. He asked me if he could work on this project as part of the criteria necessary to attain the Kramlich Innovation Distinction (more on that later), and I gladly gave him the green light.
Throughout his year-long project, I was inspired to take a back seat and observe Ryan putting his innovative mindset and the deep content skills in physics and engineering that he acquired at USM to work through this iterative process. He had to rethink his design to accommodate a large battery and an entirely different gear system, and communicate and collaborate with me and several mentors outside of the classroom to get authentic feedback.
This kind of experiential, student-directed project work would not have been possible five years ago at University School before the Lubar Center for Innovation and Exploration was built, not to mention the accompanying coursework and a schedule that afforded Ryan large blocks of time during the school day to work on the project with ongoing support from an engineer and teacher. He had the time, tools, expertise, and support needed to develop a solution to a problem that truly mattered to him. Ultimately, he was able to reach his goal of creating a viable, working electric bike that he plans to bring with him to college at the University of Denver in the fall.
As a result of his work, Ryan was one of five seniors to receive the newly created Kramlich Innovation Distinction on his USM transcript. Launched in 2018, the transcript designation recognizes students, like Ryan, who participate in courses and other activities including the House of Technology, and was designed to build skills, competencies, and attributes that will serve students in today’s rapidly changing technological society.
Observing Ryan throughout his project, and the many students who participate in similar projects throughout the year, made me reflect on how far USM has come in the 20 years I have been here. I witness first-hand, on a daily basis, students like Ryan who carefully prioritize their time and attention despite all of the temptations they face from social media, texting, etc. They are applying the knowledge they’ve gained in traditional classes to real-life projects—creating innovative solutions to things they are passionate about.
Nikki Lucyk, pictured above with Ryan Kennedy ’19, is USM’s director of innovation and academic technology.