Learn to Teach, Teach to Learn

January 20, 2016

 Learn to Teach, Teach to Learn

 Learn to Teach, Teach to Learn

Mel King reaches across his desk at the South End Technology Center (SETC) and grips a glass Mason jar, the type that has become a staple in restaurants and often shows up at weddings and other parties. But King’s jar is different.

Affixed to the side is a gray plastic handle, one that King easily stretches his long fingers into, demonstrating how one could use it as a coffee mug.

“A student mentioned that a diner nearby was serving hot beverages in glass jars,” says King, the center’s director and founder. “But you had to wait for the drink to cool before you could ever pick up the glass.”

King and others at SETC, including volunteers from Wentworth Institute of Technology, decided to use one of the on-site 3D printers to design a handle that would perfectly match the contour and size of the jar. After five different prototypes using a plant-based plastic, the winning design was found.

Located in a brick row house in Boston’s South End, the SETC opened in 1997 and provides free or low-cost access and training in most aspects of computer-related technology to low-income community members. SETC services more than 800 children and adults annually with patrons ranging in age from 5 to 82. Through its community work study program, Wentworth’s Center for Community and Learning Partnerships places students each semester with SETC who share the organization’s love of technology and the desire to expose more youth to the opportunities that STEM fields offer.

“People who use the center can learn about tech, get help with résumés, and learn how to apply for jobs, among other things,” says King. “My first responsibility is to make sure that people learn something valuable, and Wentworth has been a great help with that.”

James Salvatore is an example of a Wentworth student who has contributed greatly to the SETC, having worked in it “Fab Lab,” which provides the MakerBot 3D printers and other digital equipment to the general public. Salvatore's skills garnered as a Wentworth student allow him to mentor others, while the machines at the center provide a space for him to hone his craft.

“It’s been a great opportunity,” he says, while AutoCAD software runs in the background. “I really like working with others and helping them figure out how to use something, or create something.”

Salvatore recently worked on designing a miniature basketball game, roughly the size of a shoebox. Created using SETC software and machines, the prototype features a standup hoop with backboard and a catapult apparatus that sits atop a faux court. Items can be placed into the catapult before they are launched toward the hoop.

Salvatore notes that he has helped several SETC students design their own models.

“I think that volunteering with the center is rewarding for a Wentworth student, and it’s wonderful for us,” says Susan Klimczak, director of youth education. “I stress the mantra of ‘learn to teach, teach to learn.’ It’s a multilayer effect. Someone like James can document his work and then teach it to others.”

SETC staff members all have extensive backgrounds in computer technology and their applications, including Klimczak who was a faculty member at Audubon Expedition Institute. King, meanwhile, was formerly a professor at MIT.

In addition to mug handles and basketball games, other recent projects include the creation of a circuit board, as well as a solar-powered phone charger that can be mounted on public benches.

“The students’ work has been wonderful and I’m very pleased,” Klimczak says. “Wentworth has been a great partner and a big help.”'"

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