A Spring Break intro to engineering

Mukilteo students continue learning at Electroimpact's Youth Engineering Lab
By Brandon Gustafson | Apr 11, 2018
Photo by: Brandon Gustafson Kamiak freshman Pablo Gutierrez and Patrick Nguyen working on a Lego model.

Lots of kids spend their Spring Breaks out of town with their families.

With the weather lately, who can really blame them?

For most, Spring Break is a time to relax and not worry about schoolwork or learning for a week.

But some Mukilteo students are using their week off in Electroimpact’s newly formed Youth Engineering Lab.

Peter Zieve, president and owner of Electroimpact, opened up the lab this past Saturday and is running it daily through April 15.

Zieve said all children are welcome, regardless of their current knowledge of engineering.

To help get the lab up and running, Zieve enlisted the help of some Kamiak students who are in the school’s robotics club.

“We were helping the robotics club with Vex robotics, and they came over here to give us an exposition. And I saw them all and I said, ‘I’ve got to get you guys helping us in our new technology area.’”

Pablo Gutierrez, a freshman at Kamiak, is one of the club’s members who has been spending time with younger kids, and teaching them about engineering and different 3D modeling computer programs, such as SolidWorks and Tinkercad.

“Pablo’s been like a rock,” Zieve said. “He’s here right at 9 o’clock, and at 1 o’clock he leaves. I think Pablo is going to be the rock that we build this on.”

“We were going on a field trip here, to get funding for our robotics club, and he offered us jobs in programming, which lots of us were happy with,” Gutierrez said. “Each of us has our own specialty of what we know … so each of us has our own unique ability with certain programs, so we just try to help around as much as we can and teach the kids different things between either Mindstorm, Solidworks, and Vex.”

Gutierrez talked about how his fellow robotics club member, Kamiak sophomore Ryan Handrab, was showing a young visitor the basics of Solidworks.

“Once you learn the basics of Solidworks, you can literally just make whatever you want,” Gutierrez said. “So we’re trying to get them (kids visiting the lab) familiar with that.”

There is a large 3D printer in the lab, where kids can print models they make on the various software. Many of the children have made small nameplates or model planes.

“With Solidworks and Tinkercad, we can save both files of whatever we make on here as an STL (stereolithography file) and import them into the big 3D printer,” Gutierrez said. “We have many different files containing different programs we’ve made in the past, and we’ve made boats, a robot, a lift.”

One of Zieve’s sons, Daniel, made toy guns recently that took a few hours to make because of their size.

“Three hours, 38 minutes and 6 seconds,” Daniel said when Zieve asked how long they took to make.

“The bigger it is, definitely the longer it is, so we have to time it correctly so everyone gets a try at printing whatever they want,” Gutierrez said. “So we try not to build anything too big until the end of the day when everyone’s leaving, and we might do a three hour project like the gun, but during the day we try to do smaller scale objects.”

In addition to the Kamiak students, Zieve also has some of his employees helping out with the lab, such as John Larsen.

“John is in charge of our youth workshop. He’s one of our technicians,” Zieve said.

Eric Howell, a robotics engineer was also at the lab with his wife and children.

“They have break week as well, but they’ve got to do something with their kids, so he’s here helping out with his kid,” Zieve said. “It’s just a great place to hang out with the kids and do some cool stuff.

“We’re offering it to employees to bring their kids. My kids are here, and you also have some kids who are from the community. We’re inviting everybody. We put brochures in the schools. There’s kids from all over Mukilteo who are here to participate.”

Zieve even included an experiment he used to do when he was a kid.

He has three light bulbs next to each other with some wires and switches, and they’re connected to a small motor.

“This is an area to explain Kirchhoff’s laws of electricity,” Zieve said. “It basically comes away from what I did as a grade school kid on my own. I did these kinds of experiments with batteries, and it allowed me to get into electrical engineering. So I reproduced it here.

“It’s been a little more trouble than I thought, but it allows us to get the kids used to measuring voltages and currents, and all the kids can come through here and learn about Kirchhoff’s laws of electricity. Every one of the kids has been working on that.”

The lab is open every day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. until April 15, and after Spring Break is over Zieve plans to have it open on weekends.

“Right now, it’s going to be a salvation for Spring Break, getting the kids doing something exciting,” Zieve said.

Zieve believes more schools should have labs and programs like this one.

Larsen said some schools have programs like the lab, but they’re not necessarily in areas dedicated to engineering and robotics.

“Some of these high schools and middle schools don’t have a dedicated area,” Larsen said. “They’re all kind of sharing a classroom, or they have an auditorium that they have to reset every time. So we have this dedicated area. We tell the schools that, ‘Hey, we have a full dedicated area. Just bring your stuff here.’”

Larsen noted there are bins and other storage options in the youth lab for schools and students to leave equipment and supplies.

Larsen, like Zieve, is happy to see children learning about engineering and robotics, and he’s excited to see them progress with more practice.

“I’m excited to see this progress as people kind of advance and move on from the lower Lego Mindstorms to Vex,” Larsen said. “It gets them excited when they hear those terms in school, they know what it is and they’re like, ‘Oh I did some of that at Electroimpact. I totally want to do that because I know what it is,’ versus when they’d hear ‘Vex’ and say, ‘Vex? What’s Vex?’

“They have that intro, and if they have a fun environment, they may be more enticed to actually do it in schools since they already have that beginning (knowledge).”

Zieve said if the lab continues to grow, they may expand the room to give it more space.

“We can expand this out if we have to,” Zieve said. “We can make this bigger if we need to.”

Zieve said the kids from Kamiak have made the lab a success from the get-go, and he hopes they’ll continue to help grow the lab.

“I think the high school kids really are the glue that’s going to hold this together,” Zieve said.

In addition to Gutierrez, Kamiak sophomore Ryan Handran and Kamiak freshman Connor Pomada, Dan Joshua and Patrick Nguyen have been helping at the youth lab. All the students are members of Kamiak’s Robotics Club.

The lab can be found at Electroimpact’s A building on the second floor (4413 Chennault Beach Road).


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