Good morning! My name is Tyler Woodard, and I am the GCAA Makerspace assistant. I realized that we have not been properly introduced, so I’d like to start by first telling you a little about myself.
I grew up in a town in Northeast Nebraska called Norfolk, named after the north fork of the Missouri River, which runs through it. Track & Field was a big part of my life, even early on in elementary school, but I took a break after discovering I had asthma at a youth track meet. Eventually I returned to it in full force in high school, and would often run upwards of 10 miles a day in training. My teammates and I came dangerously close to breaking our high school’s record for the 4-by-half-mile relay my senior year, which has stood since the early 1970s. Nowadays I like to run half-marathons, and hope to run a full marathon very soon.
When I graduated high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew that I needed to challenge myself a little bit, because I knew that my best work had often been borne out of uncomfortable and stressful situations. I also knew that I had a passion for protecting people, after being involved in a large number of accidents that required stitches when I was younger (I was kind of a crazy kid). Eventually, I found the Emergency Management major, which seemed to be the perfect marriage of all my interests – global counter-terrorism, natural disasters, humanitarian disaster response and mitigation – and Saint Louis University just so happened to be the closest university with such a major (there’s only about 8 in the entire country).
I also liked that SLU had a top-notch flight school and incorporated many of my other interests into its programs as well, so even if the Emergency Management program didn’t turn out to be what I was looking for, I could switch to the next thing on my list without having to transfer. Some might find this odd, but I was also drawn to the social justice issues plaguing North and East Saint Louis, which were one thing I seldom encountered living in a semi-rural, semi-urban Nebraskan town. I really believed I could make a difference, and I enrolled at SLU without ever visiting campus or even the city. I didn’t need to; it was where I had to be.
So now I’ve told you what brought me to St. Louis, but I haven’t told you how I found and came to be employed in the Makerspace. My friend Alex, also a work-study student at Grand Center Arts Academy, pointed me to the school one day when I told him that I was looking for a job close to campus. He could not emphasize enough how much he genuinely enjoyed his role at GCAA, so I decided to check it out. I spoke with Laura Hoffmann, the former high school principal, and immediately she decided to place me in the Makerspace. I had never heard of such a concept, and I was intrigued. Little did I know what I was getting myself into, or that I was going to enjoy it so much.
Now that I have had a chance to get to know the students and learn along with them, I cannot reiterate enough how impressed I am by them each and every day. GCAA is chock-full of some of the brightest and kindest students I have ever met, and I believe they deserve everything the world can possibly give them. My first week on the job, a student showed me a speaker he had hooked up to one of our Arduino microcontrollers and programmed to play a song. I was absolutely amazed. But he stopped there, and I wondered what kept him from pushing the limits of something I found so inherently interesting and extraordinary.
And then I tried it for myself. I realized that electronics can be very frustrating to work with, and it can be very easy to get discouraged. It can also be difficult to conceive of every possibility when your components are sometimes things that you don’t really understand, and the concepts, like current and voltage, are so abstract. I began to brainstorm ways that I could get students excited about working with Arduino and motivate them to persevere even when things get tough, and I came to the conclusion that the only way would be to introduce a project – a really big project; one that would require the help and collaboration of every student in the Makerspace.
I did some research, and eventually the students and I decided on a Makerspace quadcopter. With a quadcopter, we would be able to utilize almost all the resources available to us in the Makerspace, from our MakerBot 3D printer to our Arduino microcontrollers to our new adhesive vinyl cutter. The next task was figuring out what else we would need, which took over two weeks and countless hours of perusing quadcopter enthusiast sites and other quadcopter builds on the internet. Then it took even longer to fully understand what each component’s purpose was, well enough that I could explain it to GCAA 6th graders and have it make sense to them. Finally, Mr. Goodin and I got an Amazon.com wish list put together, and submitted a project proposal to DonorsChoose, a fundraising website for public school teachers, which was just approved last Sunday. We already have students who are itching to get started, and are even doing their own independent research so they will be prepared once we are fully funded.
I cannot tell you enough how much I enjoy working with GCAA students, and I hope someday I can grow up to be just as awesome as they are. Each and every day they impress me with how imaginative they are and the tenacity with which they tackle a project. There is no doubt in my mind that they will be able to build one of the most remarkable quadcopters ever made. Please stay tuned to our new Donorschoose page and our twitter account, and spread the word!
If you do decide to give a small donation, please use matching code “CHEER” to double your donation and help us reach our goal even faster! The code expires Sunday, November 17th.