Students at Soehl Middle School working on a prototype for a small rocket during a session where they learned about 3-D printing and careers in advanced manufacturing. 

soehl students with those who ran program on advanced manufacturing

By Gary Miller

A 3-D printer can create just about anything – including an opportunity for middle school students to envision a new future.

About two dozen students gathered in the Soehl Middle School cafeteria on Dec. 20 to see a 3-D printer in action, creating a small plastic rocket for a board game. The session was part of an ongoing program to allow them to learn of career pathways in advanced manufacturing.

The students were tasked with coming up with new designs for the little rocket, using simple materials including cardboard tubes, pipe cleaners and construction paper.

“Hopefully an activity like this kind of lights that spark and they can take it and run with it on their own,” said Principal Richard Molinaro. “They can find classmates they can share these ideas with, and hopefully even share these ideas with their parents and say, ‘This is something I’m really interested in, I had a lot of fun doing it,’ and hopefully they can pursue it beyond what we did here today.”

The program was led by Joe Hudicka, who runs Fizzee Labs along with his wife, Lora, and kids Joey, 15, and Heidi, 10 – all of whom took part in the program. Joey, who explained the workings of the 3-D printer to the students and visitors, said the program is meant to help students “unlock their creative potential.”

The students, as well as parents who visited for the day, worked in small groups to come up with alternative designs for small plastic rockets that the 3-D printer was creating for a board game called “Launch” that the Hudickas created. Each group was given a specific material it could use to create their prototype. But they were also given Fizzee Labs “money” and were encourage to barter or buy material from other groups.

“You’ll notice when you move from table to table that you’ll now see a blend,” Joe Hudicka said as the students were working on their prototypes. “This table has their pipe cleaners and paper, but it also has some clay. Clearly, they were able to work out a deal with the clay table. So you’ll see a mix. When they opened up their bags, they all had different materials.”

Students were given an hour to create their prototypes, which is about how long it took the 3-D printer to create one of the original plastic rocket pieces. When they were done, representatives of each group explained their design.

“It got their minds thinking, and hopefully they’re going to take this knowledge and carry it into high school and beyond,” Molinaro said.

Hudicka talked to the students about the practical aspects of science. He took the familiar concept of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) and changed it to ESSTEAM by adding economics and sociality.

“Those are the how’s and the why’s,” he told them.

He also got the students’ attention by asking them if they knew in what state mass manufacturing got its start. “I’ll give you a hint,” he said. “You kind of go to school there.”

The session was part of state Department of Education program to help students explore science, engineering, math, information technology, and advanced manufacturing. The same Soehl students also took part in a program in June at Kean University to explore those areas.

“So we have this event to continue with the advanced manufacturing,” said Lori Howard, communications director for the Department of Education’s Division of Teaching and Learning. “That’s something they really need to do hands-on to learn more about that and what they need to do to pursue different types of careers. It’s increasing their exposure. It’s nice to build up something we did, so it’s not just a one-stop thing.”

Also participating in the program was Joshua Miller, an engineering student at Montclair State University who helped the Hudickas in developing their board game, which is aimed at young entrepreneurs. He told the Soehl students about the academic path he followed to set his sights on 3-D printing and advanced manufacturing – after initially wanting to be a musician.

Glen Barlics, of Inman Molding and Manufacturing in Rahway, spoke to the students about what comes next in the process after a piece is designed and created by a 3-D printer. Molds must be created to mass produce an item, he told them. Hudicka pointed out that it would take years if every individual rocket had to be produced by the 3-D printer.

“What I saw today was students and parents working together on an ingenious idea,” Molinaro said. “They were learning how things get manufactured, putting their ideas together, building rocket ships from household items, learning how to barter with each other from group to group – it was an excellent activity.”

The students who took part are: Michael Albuquerque, Lauren Almeida, Ekeoma Amadi, Joseph Argueta, Tatiana Burke, Eddy Charles, Gabriella Cieza, Marwin Clavijo, Kayla Delbrune, Brielle Ellis, Jorge Flechas, Claryssa Forde, Natalie Giraldo, Richard Gyan, Shekinah McIntyre, Abigail Meima, Brandon Miller, Paolo Nolasco, Victoria Pirgo, Abel Porras, Samantha Pugliese, Giselle Riera Torres, Rocio Santiago, Karla Suzarez, Victoria Tomczyk, Olga Lopez Valladares and Omar Yanes.