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Chico High School

3D printing brings career readiness and funding to California students

“When you incorporate business partners into the educational environment, it raises the bar.”
— Mike Bruggeman / Instructor, Chico High School

Business in the Lab

student working at a computer

Students in grades 10-12 solve engineering problems and build portfolios of 3D work.

student working at a computer

Like many high school teachers, Mike Bruggeman’s first foray into 3D printing was driven by the desire to put the innovative, affordable design and construction tool into the hands of more engineering students. Soon after installing Chico High School’s first Stratasys 3D Printer, Bruggeman realized its impact expanded far beyond just allowing students to experiment with the state-of-the-art technology

“Two members of the local business community approached me with design communication challenges that they were facing,” said Bruggeman, who teaches architecture and engineering at the California high school. Klean Kanteen, a maker of eco-friendly stainless steel water bottles, was grappling with language barriers and design issues when dealing with manufacturers in China. Bruggeman’s students 3D printed lid design prototypes that were sent to China and used in final product development.

Replicating Success

By sharing his experiences, curriculum and projects while attending meetings at Butte College and Chico State, among other venues, Bruggeman raised awareness for Chico High School students and their 3D printing. Soon, both were in high demand among local firms. Several projects have come from Westside Research, which develops cargo management solutions for the automotive and trailer industries and employs one of Chico’s seniors. “Some of our prototypes are now used by Chinese manufacturers that make Westside Research’s products for shipment to big box retailers like Walmart,” said Bruggeman.

Through these experiences, Bruggeman’s students are exposed to real-world learning that supports career and college readiness. “The 3D printer was a good addition to what we were already doing curriculum-wise. It took everything to an entirely new level,” he said.

Ongoing Funding

The funding generated through business partnerships helps Chico High School acquire the materials to run its 3D printing program.

“If you go to local businesses and ask them for money, they tend to shy away. But when you tell them you’re looking for a way to give students real-world experience and help them with their projects at the same time, most will proactively offer their support,” said Bruggeman. Many will pitch in for 3D printing supplies and materials, for example, by purchasing enough to cover not only their own prototypes, but also classroom activities and student training.

“It’s a win-win,” said Bruggeman. “Our students get the experience and the materials — and our partners get their prototypes.”

From Lab to Workforce

By transforming their ideas into tangible prototypes they can touch and see, Chico High School’s 10th- to 12th-grade students are not only solving minor engineering problems, they are also developing portfolios they’ll use when applying to college or for jobs. A student involved with the Klean Kanteen project, for example, now works for NASCAR. “At 23 years old,” says Bruggeman, “he took his 3D printing pictures and portfolio to North Carolina, applied for a few jobs and was hired by NASCAR.”

Today, Bruggeman has former students in nearly every university in California, many of whom are in rigorous engineering programs. He says promoting college and career readiness while attracting ongoing program funding makes 3D printing an invaluable part of Chico High School’s architecture and engineering program.

“When you incorporate business partners into the educational environment, it raises the bar and makes upper-level classes that much more competitive,” said Bruggeman. “We have a large number of students here competing for a limited number of seats. 3D printing has really helped make our program both viable and competitive.”

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