Betabox at Lakewood High School

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Last week in Sampson County North Carolina, Saturday morning was designated for innovation, not relaxation. With the help of Betabox partner Marlow Artis, Betabox had the opportunity to bring our Self-Driving Car experience to a select group of Upward Bound students at Lakewood High School.

For the uninitiated — Betabox offers an onsite field trip service for K12 schools. Our goal is to bring high end, advanced technologies that are typically found only at companies and universities out into the world for students to experience. We offer a variety of hands-on learning STEM experiences that schools can book directly from us.

This particular experience was more meaningful because in the weeks and months prior, Sampson County was devastated by two large hurricanes that swept through the east coast, hitting parts of North Carolina hard. So, this event was initially rescheduled, and the arrival of the lab to Lakewood was a welcomed symbol that rebuilding was underway.

The experience our Betabox Guides delivered at Lakeview is called ‘Self-Driving Cars.’ In this session, students learn all about the skills, technologies, and concepts that go into the very interdisciplinary adventure of crafting a car that can drive itself.

This experience was structured at a full day ‘project based’ session, meaning we worked with a small group of students for a full day, as opposed to a larger (typically 150) group of students for one class session each. This format allows us to dive more in-depth into the experience and provide a deeper, more substantive experience for the participants.

And that’s exactly what we did! Throughout the day the group of students we worked with were able to experience a variety of technologies that they’d use within STEM fields. For example, in the morning we utilized the 3D printers and laser cutters in the Betabox to demonstrate how the chassis of the car kits are produced.

After that, students utilized a cloud-based 3D modeling tool called Onshape to create their own car models. We explained that today, many designers leverage digital tools in the process of designing cars, a departure from the clay sculpting used in years prior.

After lunch, students put on their electrical engineering hats by connecting the onboard Raspberry Pi that controls each of the cars to the proper motor modules and battery bank. These particular cars function through a LAN network that runs within the Betabox, so students learning about configuring IP addresses in this stage as well.

Car races!

The day ended with the fun part — races! Students placed the cars on a speed bump in the parking lot and after a countdown, let them go to see which car would win.

Our insights from the day

After the experience was complete, the local paper compiled this article describing what took place and how the students learned. What struck me personally about this day was the simple fact that while this high school is just an hour away from the Research Triangle Park, the students we worked with were seeing 3D modeling, 3D printing, laser cutting largely for the very first time. This goes to show the importance of distributing these things everywhere and anywhere young people live. As our partner for this event Marlow Artis aptly described:

“Address should not determine access.”

An unexpected insight from this day was how interested the participating students were in the entrepreneurship discussion our Guides introduced after one student asked a question about starting a business. At the halfway mark of the experience, we paused to zoom out and explore the entrepreneurial background of our Betabox Guide Jeremy Springle.

In his career, Jeremy found a way to channel his background in jewelry making into a 3D printing business that he runs from his home. One day, a friend of his who worked for Duke Power called up and asked if Jeremy could make a few ‘lock out tag out’ devices for the company. Jeremy jumped at the opportunity, and soon he had landed a contract with Duke as a supplier of these unique devices.

Jeremy helping a student troubleshoot a car

The mid-day discussion with the students this story, and Jeremy zoomed in on two key insights that the students took to heart:

  1. Your network is often your source of opportunity. If you’ve developed a hands-on skill, make sure you let your friends know about this so they they can think of you when they hear about job and business opportunities that might be a fit for you.
  2. Grit matters! When starting a business or getting a car to function properly, it pays to not give up. In this session we talked about how IQ is not the main factor that determines success, grit and perseverance matter even more.

At the end of the day, we were pleased to hear the positive response from students. One student said:

“I learned about the circuits and how you can use batteries to make the wheels turn. It was really cool.”

High school is an important inflection point for a young person’s future. Some students discover topics that captivate their attention and inform their college choice, career choice, etc. Others, find themselves disengaged from the school environment and leave high school relatively rudderless.Without a general direction to direct your energies, it can be tough to crop out an early foothold of career interest.

Experiences like the ones we offer at Betabox aim to help showcase to young people the fields and projects that are out there to uncover and pursue. While it is still up to the individual student to ultimately jump in and take advantage of the proximal opportunities they see, parents, teachers, admins, and employers can play a very important role in helping young people discover what is beyond their small town.


Photos courtesy of Chase Jordan

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