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Educating Future Engineers

By Sara Ferris

How often do you hear that educational institutions don’t prepare students for the “real” working world? That can’t be said of the 12,000-student Clover Park School District in Lakewood, WA. The design technology curriculum there incorporates state-of-the-art product design tools. The district is located just south of Tacoma and serves the Lakewood, Fort Lewis Army Post, and McChord Air Force Base.  

High school students use the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner to capture geometric data from real-world objects. Sixty seats of SolidWorks enable the students to enhance the scanned data or use it to create a compatible part. One student, for example, scanned the skull of a small animal and used SolidWorks to add alien features for an animation project.  Other projects might involve scanning a telephone handset and designing a cradle to match.  Students also create clay models of objects, scan them, and refine the designs in SolidWorks. Once the digital design is set, students can output their works using a 3D printer from Z Corp. 

“Capturing, processing, and printing 3D data—it’s important to take the design process full circle,” said Clover Park School District Career and Technology Education Director Paul Warrick. “A design is just lines and arcs on a screen until you actually make something relevant. Until students hold their creation in their hands and interact with it, it doesn’t really exist to them. Once it’s printed, they gain the understanding and appreciation that, yes, they can design potentially useful products, not just pretend to on a computer screen.”

Clover Park high school design technology students have invented custom wheels for their remote-controlled cars, fixtures for recharging their cell phones, and high-concept pencil holders now on the desks of school officials throughout the district. The curriculum has enabled one student to secure a state-funded scholarship award covering all tuition and expenses for two years of post-secondary education. That student is one of many in the Clover Park district convinced that what was formerly known as vocational education – or previously, as shop class – is critical to high-paying careers like mechanical engineering.

Clover Park chose SolidWorks as its CAD software primarily for its superior ease of use, according to Warrick. “Drawing a line is drawing a line, drawing a curve is drawing a curve, all CAD software does it,” he said. “The difference is that SolidWorks software lets you be productive from day one. You can learn in a day what it would take a semester to learn in other CAD software packages, and I’ve used them all. The result is students create better designs.”

Warrick has helped the district’s middle school, which has 30 licenses of SolidWorks, replicate the three-stage scan, model, and print curriculum. In addition, elementary school students are learning basic design by using Cosmic Blobs, also from SolidWorks.

Clover Park High School students follow the curriculum included with SolidWorks Education Edition software. One section focuses on the design of balsa wood bridges. Students use COSMOSExpress to determine how the bridges will hold up under heavy weight. Next year, students will create air-powered cars and race them after refining designs in virtual wind tunnels created with COSMOSFloWorks, also part of SolidWorks Student Edition.

“It’s inspiring that public school students as young as elementary school are learning about computer-aided design and doing so in a larger context that encompasses new aspects of design-to-manufacture,” said Marie Plancard, SolidWorks director of education. “Education like this leads to a population with greater interest and competence in science, technology, engineering, and math principles and a workforce capable of designing better products.”


Clover Park School District

Additional Resources

SolidWorks educational blog features new curriculum ideas and other news:


Sample lesson from the SolidWorks air-powered car curriculum: www.solidworks.com/pages/products/edu/documents/CO2CarProject.pdf


Sources: Press materials received from the company and additional information gleaned from the company’s website.

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