Featured Teacher: Jack Chen, Sewanhaka High School

Once again, manufacturing history is being made at Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park, New York. Back in the 1940s, Sewanhaka helped train young men and women as technicians for the aircraft industry on Long Island and also to meet post-war industrial needs. Today, high school students here are developing the skills required in our country’s new manufacturing economy — empowered by digital fabrication technology from ShopBot.

Jack Chen, a former manufacturing engineer, is now in his third year as a high school teacher — and he’s passionate about it. He’s the instructor for the Instrumentation and Automation (I&A) program which is a three year pre-engineering elective available to students in the Sewanhaka Central School District through its Career & Technical Education Center.

Jack Chen with his classroom's new ShopBot Desktop

Jack Chen with his classroom’s new ShopBot Desktop

Besides I&A, the Career and Technical Education Center at Sewanhaka High School also offers courses in Architectural Technology, Automotive Technology, Construction Trades, Cosmetology/Beauty Culture, Graphic Design, Corporate Communications/Digital Imaging and classes to help students prepare for Networking and A+ Computer Technician Certification.

We’re excited to shed a spotlight on Jack and his teaching at Sewanhaka — in part because he is one of the teachers (the first, actually) to take advantage of the ShopBot “Digital Fab Tools for Schools” promotion held in collaboration with Autodesk 123D Design; he’s poised to use his ShopBot Desktop in his class as well as in collaboration with other teachers in the school.

About Jack and his high school curriculum

Jack earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University, M.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University and an MBA from Georgetown University. After working for a number of years in engineering and in business, Jack answered the national call for more highly-qualified math and science teachers in our country’s public schools by applying for a five-year teaching fellowship offered by Math for America that allowed him to earn his Master of Arts in Teaching from Bard College and to begin his teaching career at Sewanhaka High School.

Most of Jack’s students at Sewanhaka are college-bound; an overview of his program reveals that 10th graders get a half-year concentration in computer science and a half-year of electronics; 11th graders learn about applied electronics with programmable micro-controllers by building small robots and various automated devices; 12th grade students study physics at the advanced placement level.

Jack says, “I’ve wanted from the start to expose my students to more hands-on advanced manufacturing technologies and to emphasize the importance of studying math and science.” He views working with the ShopBot Desktop as an opportunity to help his students build their experience with automation and to become empowered Makers. “A great number of my students are very artistic,” notes Jack. “They naturally want to make things. What’s so exciting about modern digital fabrication is that you can help students feed their desire to create while learning key STEM concepts.”

Why this type of program is so crucial to our future

Jack also serves as the advisor for Sewanhaka High School’s Senior Robotics Club. “When we were preparing for the 2012 FIRST Tech Challenge Championship (New York City),” Jack explains, “I contacted a local machine shop to see if we could use or borrow some of their equipment to fabricate some custom parts for our robot. The owner of that shop shared with me, that he has jobs available for CNC operators, but no young people coming up with the skills to fill those jobs!  This really hit home for me, and has further fueled my work.”

This experience led to Jack researching different digital fabrication tools that he could bring into his classroom. “I built a low-end 3D printer from a kit with some of my students over the summer,” Jack explains, “but to be frank, it isn’t very practical for making useful items – it’s very interesting technology but it doesn’t perform very well at this stage of development.” Jack discovered ShopBot through online research, and then saw the Desktop firsthand at last year’s NYC Maker Faire. “My visit to the Maker Faire convinced me that the ShopBot Desktop is a real production-ready tool.  Compared to the Desktop, a low-end 3D printer is more of a toy.”

Jack says, “I’m excited about the possibilities that this tool will create, and how it can not only enrich my classroom but will also be useful to other teachers at Sewanhaka. Fortunately for me, there’s an art teacher at Sewanhaka with CNC experience who looks forward to using the Desktop to support a new 3D Design class; students in the architecture program can use it to help fabricate scale models for their SkillsUSA competitions; a music teacher at the school wants to use the tool to make bodies for electric guitars and the graphics arts teacher can use it with his students to create some beautiful signage for the school building.”

Jack promises to keep the ShopBot education community abreast of his activities and to share projects and ideas. He sums up the big picture this way: “We’re just a stone’s throw from New York City, where Mayor Bloomberg has just announced his ‘Made in New York’ initiative. I’m proud to help prepare my students for the amazing opportunities that will become available to them in this area in the future.”




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