MCAD and Music Make Math Cool

31 Oct, 2007 By: Cadalyst Staff

Some companies are launching their own educational initiatives to ensure that future generations include qualified engineers.

Over the past few years, several major MCAD vendors have become involved in introducing students at various levels to design and engineering as a context for generating more interest in math and science and why they matter. Here I will mention just a few.

The CAD Academy
Although it currently is still in the early stages of implementation, the CAD Academy is a collaboration of industry professionals, vendors, and educators whose goal is to inspire a new generation of engineers and architects through the implementation of software, such as the SolidWorks Education Edition 2007-2008. Cofounded by SolidWorks, The CAD Academy is a secondary and postsecondary pre-engineering and pre-architectural program. Students emerge from the program prepared to take the Certified SolidWorks Associate (CSWA) exam, demonstrating competencies in design and engineering principles.

According to Marie Planchard, SolidWorks director of worldwide education markets, “The CAD Academy is designed for school districts that need to increase opportunities for all students to apply math and science in relevant and compelling ways. It's a desperate need, as documented in Rising Above the Gathering Storm and other studies showing that we in North America have a lot of ground to make up to sustain our competitiveness.” If you weren’t aware, Rising Above the Gathering Storm is a National Academies report focused on reclaiming our country’s prominence in science and technology. It calls for tripling the number of students who pass advanced placement or similar math and science exams by 2010.

The CAD Academy intends to address that need by helping North American middle- and high-school students explore technology-oriented career paths through projects that promote an understanding and appreciation of science, engineering, and mathematics.

Autodesk Design Academy
The Autodesk Design Academy is a comprehensive pre-engineering and cross-discipline program developed specifically for secondary schools. The curriculum meets national standards and helps students become familiar with the fundamentals of engineering and design processes using Autodesk software. The Design Academy curriculum engages students in projects and helps students develop STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills.

Autodesk also recently launched its Autodesk Academic Certification Program for secondary and postsecondary students. The program enables students to earn a credential in recognition of their knowledge of specific Autodesk software applications. Schools can combine the certification program with the Autodesk Design Academy.

The Autodesk academic certification program offers a proficiency examination that assesses student readiness for certification and can help educators determine what level of instruction is best for individual students. When a student passes a certification exam, he or she receives an electronic certificate and can be listed in an Autodesk-maintained database of certified users and experts.

The Rock & Roll–Math Connection
Another company that strongly supports education is Maplesoft, which develops interactive mathematical software with a suite of tools intended to transform the way mathematic concepts and principles are used. Maplesoft’s commitment to education is evident with its student edition software for helping complete assignments, Student Help Center, and summer internship program.

I recently received an excellent real-life story from Tom Lee, vice-president of market development at Maplesoft, about how rock and roll might actually influence science and math education in a positive way. Below is what Lee had to say:

On August 23, 2007, the universe finally began unfolding as it should. Brian May, the famed rock guitarist from the band Queen earned his PhD in physics (“Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud”) from the prestigious Imperial College in London. Why should we care? Simple. For years, I, among countless others, have been publicly lamenting how difficult it is to motivate our youth to pursue studies and careers in science and engineering. Math just ain’t cool, cry the young people. Well, we now have a major rebuttal to that mantra.

Brian May is not just cool; he is arguably the coolest among the guitar heroes of our time. And he’s a true renaissance man. Not only did he pen the mega anthems such as “We Will Rock You,” but he also earned his success through his brain. Anyone who has ever turned on a radio since 1975 will immediately recognize the May sound -- an unearthly howl that sparked countless college parties for several generations. But he didn’t pay for this sound -- he designed it. Using his background in physics, May applied science to engineer the finest sound in guitardom and blessed his homemade guitar with it. That’s a true guitar (and engineering) hero.

He is not alone. Tom Scholz, the guitarist from the band Boston, holds a master’s degree in engineering from MIT. He too was able to translate his education to his music and, like May, engineered a unique sound and smartness to his music. He later went on to invent the Rockman device, which was one of the first mobile guitar amps for use with headphones.

I’d love to see a poster of Brian May in a classic rock pose, with a well-articulated, accessible treatment of the signal-processing that went into the design of his guitar. Is anyone in the industry or academia thinking at this level? Or are we still stuck on how to motivate teenagers with pictures of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer? If the only way we’ll compete against the literally millions of engineers emerging from developing economies is through creativity and innovation, we need to start paying serious attention to this creativity thing. Perhaps guitar heroes are part of the solution and not the problem.

I’m really glad that Tom Lee shared this story because it creates a basis in reality that I -- and more important, students -- can relate to. On a more personal level, despite some of my friends and colleagues questioning my sanity, I’ve volunteered to be a math tutor at the local high school this year. I got involved because I have long felt that math literacy has become as important as literacy in reading and writing and will only increase in importance in the future. I try to use my background in mechanical engineering to frame my own context for conveying math concepts, and I’m satisfied with how well I have been received.

MCAD as a technology and its various vendors have had the power and opportunity to greatly influence the educational community for a long time. Even so, I am always happy when announcements are made that further the cause of education through greater levels of participation. Admittedly, the various participating vendors are attempting to appeal to a future generation of customers; however, their commitment seems genuine and is vital support for future engineers.

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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