Robert Georgeoff got himself a nice one-of-a-kind, $30,000 desktop nameplate yesterday — courtesy of tomorrow’s engineering whizzes and a Rubik’s Cube genius.
The Tempe-based alternative energy company Georgeoff heads donated the $30,000 last week to support the Payson Unified School District’s innovative, project-based engineering program.
And after he took a tour of one of the two sections of eager freshmen, they cranked out the desktop nameplate from their brand new three-dimensional printer —that can produce objects from molded plastic that the students have designed.
The tour also included a demonstration in which Brandon Kasl casually managed to color match the bewilderment of a Rubik’s Cube in 90 seconds flat.
“It was very exciting to see those kids and that class,” Georgeoff told the Payson school board as he presented a blowup of the $30,000 check to the district. “You don’t often see a board that works with staff in these challenging times to go forward further with less,” he said.
The donation will help provide crucial materials and training for the district’s attempt to launch a four-year program for students interested in careers in science and technology.
The district launched the program this year with two classes for freshmen and hopes to add follow-up classes for sophomores next year. A parents group pushing for more classes for top students provided the money to provide teacher training.
Middle school teacher Marlene Armstrong got certified in using project-based learning in science and technology classes and then shifted to the high school to launch the four-year program.
The donation from ARMERESCO will help compensate for the Legislature’s decision this year to cut off supplemental vocational funding for high school freshmen. The district’s engineering program takes advantage of a national curriculum in science and technology education that relies on concepts referred to as “project based learning.” In this approach, students learn by tackling specific projects — like designing a race course and race cars using basic engineering and computer modeling techniques. The teacher gives the students the basics in design and use of the computer design programs —then sets them loose in groups to solve certain engineering problems.
The district, with the help of the parents group, has already purchased a $50,000 three-dimensional computer, which can produce a molded plastic object students have designed on the computer. The district covered the cost of the printer when a grant sought by the parents group fell through, so the ARMERESCO grant comes at a crucial moment.
Armstrong presented Geogeoff with the desktop nameplate the students that afternoon had produced on their new 3-D printer.
“We tried for a week and half to include the ARMERESCO logo, but we ran out of time — so we just did your name,” she said, laughing.
AMERESCO, which specializes in designing and installing systems to reduce energy use or take advantage of solar and geothermal technologies, had previously had a contract with the district to improve energy efficiency.
When company officials heard about the science and engineering program at the high school they decided to donate seed money.
The firm recently gained an Arizona footprint by acquiring APS Energy Services. The district was pleasantly surprised with so many freshmen signed up for the launch of the program that they filled two classes.
In the sophomore year, the district should get funding from the NAVIT program, a separate school district set up by the state to provide money for vocational education. NAVIT provides training and funding to local districts for vocational programs, including the high school’s building trades and agricultural sciences programs.