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Jennifer Riley

Jennifer Riley, CDI Intern and WSSU Senior, is featured in the Scientific American blog for her conference poster presentation on the iSwoop project.

Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
2015 Annual Meeting – Jan 3-7, 2015

George Eckart

George Eckart

George Eckart

George Eckart is an Engineer and STEM advocate. Before landing his current position with the NC DOT as a traffic engineer, he spent more than a decade in Winston-Salem, Forsyth and Guilford counties helping students learn. From the start of his public teaching career, his focus has been on science and technology infused with computer animation, scientific visualization, and game art. George’s resume reads like a tapestry winding the thread of career between the wefts of engineering, design, and public teaching. From this unique vantage point, he captures the value of exposing and nudging students toward the CDI experience.

CDI: From your perspective, what opportunities exist for enhancing the educational process for today’s learners?

G:  In my own educational pipeline, I didn’t understand how all the different courses would come together in a career. I took a class because it was next in the program of studies. It’s important for young people to get exposed to many real-world situations and people. Unless they are immersed in the environment, it’s hard to understand how it all fits together. In the classroom, teachers struggle with trying to cultivate relationships with local businesses to have them come talk to students. Working together with organizations like CDI can expose and inspire students. Students like Hunter (who become involved in a CDI experience) will be so much more aware of what goes on than, say, a student who just takes the class.

CDI: In your own experience, how does the inclusion of a design focus impact how you participate in science and technology (STEAM)?

G:  Looking back, I find that integration of design has helped me develop the skill to make a good impactful visualization. So STEAM has helped me to be a better engineer. It’s frustrating, though, to know of all the different visualization tools out there, but then to have to settle for an excel spreadsheet.

CDI: You’ve held various professional engineering jobs since the late 1980s. How has the nature of these engineering jobs changed over the past 25 years?

G:  Technology has changed so much. I came back to engineering when I was 45 or 46 and started working with people almost half my age. I have to constantly stay on top of new technology. At Atkins High School, I spent lots of time teaching Autodesk. Now I have to translate what I learned with Autodesk to new software. Also, you will never learn everything, so you need to be able to adjust and absorb. Hunter and his cohorts kept me fresh in this regard. There is a lot of information that is not in the textbook. They’d say, “You just have to Google that.” Teamwork is also key. No one does anything alone. You have to get along with people, and sometimes that’s tough. So soft skills are important.

CDI: How do you see the job field changing during next 5 years?

G:  In my world, I see us going through consolidation and the cutting back of sheer numbers of people who are employed. Multitasking is becoming an ever-increasing part of the game. You can’t be expert in any one thing. In the future, being a generalist who can get along with folks may be more valued than being expert in any one thing.

CDI: Thinking about how a student grows from their current self to their future self in a job, what changes are needed in how we learn?

G:  I think the more the education world can step out into the business world and find out what is happening and bring that into the classroom, the more successful that process will be. Teachers need to know how the world is changing, too. Someone can focus for 20 years on teaching and never get out to see what’s going on. It’s hard when you are a teacher to find time to do that, time when you’re not getting lesson plans done and papers graded. If it were written into the job description for teachers to get out into the community and develop relationships, we might arrive at the point where some of the students would have opportunities to experience the broader environment. Not all students are going to be ready, and there will be other hurdles, but change necessitates finding ways to work around these.

CDI: How did you first hear about CDI and what attracted you personally to explore more?

G:  My predecessor at Atkins High School, Freda Smith, told me about CDI and encouraged me to contact the director. I was warmly invited to visit the CDI, and the staff made it very easy to do so. I had used 3D printing, animation, and video software equipment before at my school, but during the tour I saw application of these tools at a much higher level.

CDI: As a teacher/coordinator, how did you envision CDI could help you meet your goals? What value did you see here for your students?

G:  CDI’s project applications went above and beyond the playing we had been doing in the classroom. I knew my kids needed to be here. They would eat this up. So when CDI had an open house event for incoming freshmen, we stormed the 21st floor (CDI’s suite in Winston Tower). We attended mixers where the kids could meet the movers and shakers. We were all learning together. We saw how we were doing things. The kids were exposed to real research, to a real way to make a living.

CDI: What type of student resonates with CDI?

G:  In short, I would describe a successful CDI student collaborator as a self-starter, a seeker, one who does not wait to be fed answers, one who has a lot of initiative and asks to get involved.

CDI: You’ve mentioned mixers and open houses. What other types of CDI activities could benefit students?

G:  My student group was able to follow up with someone we met at the CDI mixer. Josh Tan, from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, had presented a project that involved 3D printed skulls and hips. This presentation especially inspired kids. So we followed up with a visit to his office. Also, a short, enthusiastic classroom presentation can go a long way. Students like to get fed, get cool stuff, and meet cool people. Inspired kids come up and talk.

CDI: How can CDI help other teachers to see why and how to engage their students with CDI? What is important for them to know about CDI?

G:  The mission of a STEM school might include seeking out activities like this, but most schools have not been given time or a mandate to do these types of activities. I can confidently say that it’s always easiest to have a speaker come in and speak to a group. (Out at Regan, it took 25 minutes to get to town.) You may invite Tech Ed coordinators to hold one of their teacher workday meetings at CDI. This would be a chance to inspire the teachers and share what we have available and fire them up. The event or activity can be engaging but it does not have to take a lot of time.

CDI: How would you describe CDI to your colleagues? to other teachers? to students?

G:  As part of the UNC system, CDI is on, and developing, the cutting edge of scientific visualization. I would tell other teachers that this local asset can help you inspire your kids to learn about a whole new part of the STEM world. They can make your job easier. They can introduce you to people who can help you do a better job. It’s a great meeting place. I would tell students that CDI is a good place to see what the future looks like and what your role in it could be if you’re interested in computers and computer graphics.

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