The Y’s 3D Printing and Design Program inspires a new generation of makers
For Reno Fera-Ducatt Waswil, STEAM Manager at the YMCA of Metro Chicago, STEAM isn’t just a fancy acronym for “science, technology, engineering, art, and math”—it’s a problem-solving framework that anyone can use to better the world around them.
Through a new 3D Printing and Design Program that piloted at the Kelly Hall, McCormick, Rauner Family, and South Side YMCAs earlier this month, Waswil hopes to inspire the Y’s Out of School Time (OST) students to tinker, play, and explore how creativity impacts their daily lives.
“Fundamentally, STEAM thinking is all about observing how the world works, experimenting, and using the tools we have at our disposal to create new things,” Waswil said. “My hope is that we can use 3D printing as a vehicle to spark young people’s imaginations as they grow up to be positive change agents in their communities.”
During the six-week program, youth aged 8-13 learn the basics of 3D printing and TinkerCAD, an open-source design software that brings innovators’ ideas to life. For their first project, students created bag tags, expressing themselves through fun, personalized designs.
“Whatever you want to design, you can design it your own way,” said Kelly Hall YMCA participant Brianna, proudly holding up two of her creations—a bag tag and a guitar pick with her zodiac sign.
Throughout the course of the program, students like Brianna will take on increasingly complex design challenges, crafting objects like wearables and phone stands.
“The Y’s 3D Printing and Design Program allows youth to visualize their imaginative concepts,” said Waleska Do Valle, STEAM Program Coordinator. “Instead of buying or consuming the creations of someone else, our students become inventors who can identify needs and create solutions. This program also offers students the opportunity to reach their full potential and discover what they can achieve through careers in the STEAM field.”
Incorporating the Y’s impact areas of youth development and social responsibility into its curriculum, the program culminates in a two-part lesson titled “Invent for Good.” Putting STEAM thinking into action, youth will work in teams to identify areas of improvement in their communities, brainstorm ways to improve people’s lives, use TinkerCAD to design products that address these issues, and fabricate prototypes for these useful objects with their 3D printing knowledge.
By taking an open-ended approach that gives participants more autonomy with each lesson, the Y’s 3D Printing and Design Program empowers youth to exercise their imaginations, collaborate with one another, and develop their own unique passions.
“We’re teaching kids how to form processes to create something new based on what they find cool or interesting,” Waswil said. “Even if they don’t go into a 3D printing, manufacturing, or STEAM-related field, these are skills that learners can take with them wherever they go.”
The YMCA of Metro Chicago’s 3D Printing and Design Program was made possible thanks to funding support from the CME Group Foundation.