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Education Nation 2012

Enter the Fab Lab - learning how engineering can fit into students' career plans

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(NBC) -- Students at a Minnesota high school are the first in the country to use a new engineering and design center in a K-12 setting.

By partnering with MIT, the students are gaining access to cutting edge technology, and perhaps a glimpse into their future.

Fab Lab stands for Fabrication Laboratory.

This MIT- sponsored Design Incubation Center at Mahtomedi High School is the first of its kind in a K-12 setting.

Kathe Nickleby, Principal at Mahtomedi says "It's moving from the traditional wood and metal shops that we probably remember from our school days, and now students are building things digitally."

Giving Mahtomedi students a head start as the district works engineering standards throughout its curriculum.

Nickleby continues "What we've been able to do and expand with this fabrication lab is bring in our foods classes, our math classes, our English language arts classes and have students take ideas and concepts that they use in the other disciplines and actually build a tangible product they can hold in their hands. "

Vince Lecuyer, a junior at the school, says "We're designing the chair on sketch chair… it's a new program."

Mahtomedi students are the first to test it.

Something else is new. To be a Fab Lab, the school needs an MIT- trained instructor. This year, that's business owner Tierney Putman, a design professional who believes this kind of training is critical for students.

"By the time they get to college, or a community college, it's too late. They have to get an understanding of this technology and be comfortable with it by the time they get out to the work force or get to a college" says Putman.

Which means getting students to imagine how engineering can fit into their career plans.

Senior  Kristina Brust explained "Actually I ended up during the summer going in and talking to my counselor. She showed me some of the things that we were going to be doing with the 3D printer. I was, like, I need to get into this class."

Through something called the Polycom, Mahtomedi students can connect to any of the 62 other Fab Labs around the world and MIT engineers can peek in on them. As do local corporations and businesses that provided seed money and continue to lend expertise.

"We all as a business believe in the Fab Lab idea. That's getting technology into ordinary people's hands so they can invent and create" Tierney Putman said.

Principal Kathe Nickleby is proud: "I can't even tell you how proud I am of the students, this community, the staff at this high school, the partnerships… everybody that has contributed to this."

The instructor likes the Fab Lab concept so much, she's working on incorporating it into her future community designs so entire neighborhoods could one day putter around in a state-of-the-art design center.

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