Promoting Education, Part 1: Autodesk

16 Apr, 2008 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Like many CAD companies, Autodesk stands behind education, offering a variety of programs and products for future engineers.

I've been a proponent of technical education -- math, science, and technology -- for a long time. So much so, in fact, that I became a volunteer tutor/mentor at the local high school in the rural town where I live. The job has proved to be challenging on one hand, but extremely rewarding on the other. We've all heard how the United States lags behind other nations, such as China and India, in math, engineering, and other technical pursuits, and it feels good to do my small part to reverse the trend -- and watch eyes light up and light bulbs go off in the process.

In the meantime, I've also become increasingly interested in what the MCAD community is doing to support educational institutions. As it turns out, it's quite a lot, and I'm very encouraged to see this commitment to the future of our industry. To give you an idea of what's happening, I plan to contact several CAD companies to better understand their perspectives and plans related to education. I kick off this series with Autodesk, which offers a variety of programs that aim to support science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, while at the same time building a potential future customer base.

To get Autodesk's perspective on STEM education, I spoke with Paul Mailhot, senior director of worldwide education programs. In the approximately two years that Mailhot has been in this position, he has done some very good work building the content and direction of Autodesk's education programs and products, and that's where we began our discussion.

Autodesk Programs and Products
Autodesk, like most CAD companies, offers bundles of products for different market segments, such as architecture, mechanical, and industrial design, applicable to different educational levels, from K-12 through higher education. The company also offers several fully functioning Autodesk products free to any student who can provide a ".edu" e-mail address for validation purposes, or can have an instructor register for his or her educational institution, said Mailhot.

DesignKids.Autodesk DesignKids includes a product bundle of AutoCAD and Autodesk Inventor Professional, as well as a project-based curriculum, designed specifically for primary schools to support academic performance. Challenging but fun activities promote creativity and learning as the program leads students through design basics and project design modules for a paper airplane, skyscraper, jewelry, house, and bridge. Each module includes an introduction, online resources, student exercises, and evaluation metrics. Autodesk DesignKids provides more than 30 hours of individual content that teachers can use.

Design Academy. The next step up the education ladder is Autodesk Design Academy, a comprehensive pre-engineering, pre-architecture, and interdisciplinary solution developed specifically for secondary schools. Design Academy includes a range of Autodesk 2D and 3D design software, as well as project-based curricula that include an introduction to engineering course from Project Lead the Way. In addition, the Design Academy program supports Autodesk partnerships with the FIRST robotics and F1 in Schools student competitions. For mechanical design curricula, this product bundle includes AutoCAD, Inventor Professional, 3ds Max Design, and Design Review.

Design Institute. The Autodesk Design Institute offers Autodesk 2D and 3D design software and curricula for teaching mechanical engineering and industrial design in colleges and universities. The product bundles vary by discipline and can include AutoCAD, AutoCAD Electrical, Inventor Professional, and AutoStudio -- an automotive design tool that's part of the AliasStudio line for 3D conceptual design and visualization -- in addition to many other general-use solutions.

Autodesk currently has direct relationships with approximately 150 universities, Mailhot says, and is finalizing a sustainable design curriculum that he says will likely be introduced later this year.

Is it Working?
As a company, Autodesk feels it has an opportunity to positively influence future generations of designers and engineers, as well as train them more in terms of principles than just specific products. In my view, this endeavor began many years ago when Carol Bartz, then CEO of Autodesk, sought to interest and educate girls about the technical fields that the company was involved in at that time -- primarily MCAD and AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction). What we see today is the fruition of her original vision.

As for whether the company's efforts are paying off, the answer is yes. Autodesk’s programs continue to attract an increasingly diverse group of students, young men as well as young women, from all education levels. The FIRST robotics competition continues to grow annually by impressive numbers, not only in the number of participating teams of boys and girls, but also the number of sponsors and the number of mentors who volunteer to guide the teams.

All in all, Autodesk provides an impressive number and variety of educational resources that are helping U.S. students become more technically proficient and capable in an increasingly competitive world. And, according to Mailhot, Autodesk will maintain its efforts and commitment to education on several different levels through products, training, support, and recognition of achievement.

For more information about these Autodesk programs and products, visit the Autodesk Education Web site.

Other Autodesk Educational Resources

To read Part 2 of this series, click here.

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