Along with working on the newest products hitting the market, the Alloy team is made up of individuals who mentor and volunteer for causes they are passionate about. One of our engineers, Tim Hyde, volunteers his Friday mornings mentoring high school students at d.Tech in Millbrae, CA. Each week, Tim brings his real life experience into the design lab at d.Tech, where he helps students work through the step by step design-thinking approach similar to that taught at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school). Read below to see what d.Tech is about and how Tim is contributing to the school’s mission of providing students an education focused on technology and design thinking.
The first day I walked into d.Tech high school, a group of students were in the d.Tech incubator wrapping up a “Morning in Millbrae” design challenge. These students were tasked with improving residents’ morning commutes in Millbrae. Since I was new, we went around the room so each group could share their idea. A few groups in, one student started describing his idea (paraphrasing a bit here…) “Traffic is a nightmare. We are going to implement a series of low pressure tubes with capsules that can shuttle people really fast and efficiently around Millbrae” (think Elon Musk’s Hyperloop). In my head, all I can think is: “No you aren’t…”
d.Tech is a new public high school founded in the fall of 2014 with a focus on “technology, design thinking, and an explicit focus on the success skills to help students forge an identity that will help them as students, professionals, and citizens” (designtechhighschool.org). I got connected with the school through some friends and was invited to come once a week during their design lab to help mentor students. I arrive at the school around 8am every Friday and join a classroom working on the current design challenge. Each week, the students receive a 3-4 week challenge from the d.Tech staff. Sometimes I help a student look a problem in a new light. Sometimes I help organize some Post-it notes. Sometimes I help a student hone in on an insight they have gathered during an interview. Mostly, I am there to help the amazing staff of teachers and professionals founding this refreshing and relevant take on education.
I am also helping the d.Tech incubator get off the ground. I worked with the staff on a structured curriculum for the two week incubator cycle. These students are coming up with real and innovative solutions, products, and ideas for the challenges they are assigned. The goal is to take these ideas to market. At Alloy Product Development, that is what our group of engineers do. We thrive on implementing ideas, pushing designs, and getting products to market. I hope to inspire that same mix of practicality, grit, and determination for the students at d.Tech. My goal is to help them identify the next steps in bringing their ideas into reality.
Regardless of the task for the day, I leave d.Tech inspired. Every week I am blown away by their ideas. The insight they glean from interviews and conversations is exceptional. They work hard to develop design thinking skills, language, and structure to solve real problems in the world. I’m intrigued by how they can prototype ideas in 5 minutes and the refinements they make after a short test in the classroom. It is amazing how relevant their skill sets are to the product design industry already. Often, I head back to Alloy to complete the very same tasks I was just helping the students complete at d.Tech — writing up a report on what worked and what needs to be improved on our prototype; grabbing parts off of a 3-D printer, building a prototype, reviewing it with a client, and heading back to CAD to further refine the idea; documenting a full fledged brainstorm to pitch possible solutions to our clients.
Back to that hyperloop group in the incubator… At the same time I am thinking, “How the heck are you going to build the hyperloop in Milbrae” the group keeps talking about their plan and why it will work. This isn’t some joke, they are absolutely serious. They believe this is what Millbrae needs. They believe they can design, build, fund, and implement the Hyperloop to ease congestion in the morning. How hard can it be?
We all know that this is a huge, almost insurmountable project, but the d.Tech kids just see it as another way to help the residents of Millbrae get to work. What inspires me about these students and d.Tech High School, in general, is that this school gives the students the opportunity to think big. It gives students relevant skills to be entrepreneurs and to be able to identify problems and development solutions, whether it be in a product design firm, healthcare, education, or any other profession they eventually choose to pursue. I am confident by the time these freshmen graduate from d.Tech, there will be a slew of innovative new products and ideas flowing from the d.Tech incubator hitting funding goals on Kickstarter. I’m excited every time I walk into the school and see students bringing their ideas to life.
Image credit: Kerry Bitner