University School of Milwaukee senior Nathan Rankin ’18 recently sat down with David Anderson, USM’s new innovation engineer, to learn more about his role.
The newly completed Lubar Center for Innovation and Exploration features workstations for student collaboration, as well as a suite of advanced technology including laser cutters and 3-D printers. As part of his role, Mr. Anderson provides tutorials for students who wish to utilize the equipment, teaches a new Middle School robotics course, and performs maintenance on the machines, among a myriad of other tasks and responsibilities. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Kettering University and a master’s degree in education from the University of Michigan. Outside of USM, he enjoys staying current with new gadgets as well as repairing and riding motorcycles with his wife.
I understand you have a unique background that combines both engineering and education. Would you mind sharing a bit about your experiences prior to USM?
Out of high school I knew I liked tinkering, exploring, and building things, specifically computers and electronics, so I went to college for electrical engineering. After graduating, I went to work for the automotive industry. While I was working in Mexico for Nissan, I was teaching new engineers how to do their jobs, and I realized I really liked teaching and helping people. I applied for and received the Woodrow Wilson teaching fellowship that funded my master’s degree, and went into teaching. I taught at various public and charter schools for five years in the Detroit area until I moved to Milwaukee.
What aspects of the Lubar Center or greater school community drew you to USM?
The thing that specifically drew me to USM was how much the school supports the center—not just in funding, but how much faculty and staff are investing their time and energy in this center. I can tell the school really believes in it and really wants it to work. The whole community is behind it.
How are teachers utilizing the Lubar Center to help supplement learning in a conventional classroom setting?
One of the easiest ways for teachers to use the Lubar Center is by designing a project around the capabilities of the center or taking an existing project and modifying it so the finished product is something students can produce in here. Besides a PowerPoint presentation, what else can students produce to demonstrate understanding? The idea of producing a physical object is intriguing—it’s even a level beyond something like a computer model or rendering; it’s a deeper level of immersion. Using the equipment available in here, students can create very high-quality projects.
How can students who find technology outside of their comfort zone utilize the space?
We always try to have a low barrier of entry for students. For example, for 3-D printing, we have a very powerful, yet simple software also used in the Lower School. Once students grow beyond the capabilities of this software, they can pick up something more complex. We always want to start with whatever is simplest and easiest, and, to me, that’s part of the idea of innovation. Innovation is not about making something complex. Something that’s overly complex, difficult to use and barely works is not innovative. Whatever is simple, efficient, and easy to understand—that’s my goal here.
How does the Lubar Center prepare students for their future experiences beyond USM?
Even beyond the direct experience of learning how to use the equipment, working with higher-order thinking skills is what employers want to see when hiring. They want to see people who are creative, innovative, and can apply information to create something new, rather than just memorize facts and figures. In the Lubar Center, we encourage students to build something of their own design using 21st-century tools, thus preparing them with higher-order thinking skills that are valued in the workplace.