Imagine you are a high school student taking an online early college class for college credit. The class is introducing you to the many exciting developments in the world of 3D printing technology. You’re learning at home and your instructor assigns an activity that requires having access to a 3D printer. Until now, this may have posed an insurmountable hurdle to your success in this class. Who has a 3D printer readily available at home?

The answer to that question is a group of public high school students throughout Maine who will be enrolled in Introduction to 3D Printing this spring, an online class from the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s Rural U Early College Program. The class has been made possible in partnership with Project>Login, an Educate Maine program that connects Mainers with careers in computing and IT; the Maine Space Grant Consortium, and the Perloff Family Foundation, which provides grants that enable educators to innovate.

This unique collaboration represents the importance of bridging education and emerging technologies and industry. Dave and Sandy Perloff, who believe that many 21st-century career opportunities require early and continuous access to design tools and fabrication equipment, are generously providing 3D printers and related supplies through their foundation to each of the students participating in the class. The Perloffs’ support for UMFK’s Rural U and the students – who are from eight Maine counties and live as far south as Portland and as far north as St. Agatha – is invaluable.

This partnership also is aligned with Gov. Mills’ Economic Recovery Committee’s report recommendations that Maine “invest boldly, strategically, and consistently in next-generation technology and innovation to grow our value-add economy.” Collaboration on Introduction to 3D Printing is an excellent example of what can be done today during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of us are working and learning remotely, and going forward so that we improve access to innovative educational opportunities and develop a workforce ready for careers in next-generation fields.

For any “Star Trek” fans out there: Remember how every crew member on the Starship Enterprise had a “replicator” in their quarters? A crew member would go to the replicator, voice a command for something they desired, usually a food item, and it would just appear. It’s not exactly the same as 3D printing, but close.

Back to the 21st century: High school students, taking a class online, learning about 3D printing, earning college credit, using a 3D printer in their own home – the entire concept is rather mind-blowing, isn’t it? We’ve all seen the news reports about an engineering entity that 3D-printed a boat or parts of a car. But to bring that technology to the individual level and engage young people in that type of technological pursuit reminds one of scenes from “Star Trek” episodes where the children of the Starship Enterprise crew engaged in futuristic learning.

3D printing is not science fiction. It is emerging as an important aspect of many industries including manufacturing, technology, and even medical science. Students in Rural U’s 3D printing class will not only learn about the technology and how it is applied in industry, but also will be engaged in an experiential learning project using their own 3D printer.

UMFK’s Rural U program provides early college and concurrent enrollment opportunities to approximately 1,300 high school students in Maine high schools each year. It is exciting to be able to offer Introduction to 3D Printing and that the class will be taught by professor Stephen LaRochelle of Kennebec Valley Community College, who has played a critical role in promoting 3D printing as a gateway skill to 21st-century careers in manufacturing in Maine and in the region. The collaboration that is making this opportunity possible to students across Maine this spring also is exciting, and we hope these kinds of partnerships, which prepare students for exciting careers in high-growth fields, continue for years to come.

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