Western Digital 3D Printing Apprenticeship Helps Prepare San Jose Students for the Future

If you ask Bob France what he does as a Citizen Teacher, he may give you a couple of answers. Sure, he’s an engineer, a manager, a teacher. But he’s also a time traveler, he says. “I get to take a group of students into one of their possible futures, and go along for the ride.”

As anyone who’s met him can tell you, France is a busy man. Currently Chief of Staff in the Memory Technology Group at Western Digital in San Jose, California, he has also served on the Citizen Schools Advisory Board since 2014. In addition, he finds time to volunteer - teaching 3D printing to students in San Jose with Citizen Schools, as well as with First Robotics, another STEM nonprofit. He began volunteering with Citizen Schools teaching Lego Robotics in 2013, and taught his fourth apprenticeship this fall.

I love the Apprenticeship – 10 weeks of a passionate Citizen Teacher, creating experiences the students would likely otherwise not have,” says France. “And importantly, at a critical age when the future is just starting to loom large, as these students transition into young adults, as they wrestle with questions: ‘What do I want to be – what CAN I be?

When France started teaching Lego robotics back in 2013, he noticed that the kids always wanted to keep their robots at the end of the apprenticeships. At the time, he was getting involved with a relatively new technology, 3D printing, and wondered whether the personalized, portable creations made possible by the printers might be a hit with Citizen Schools students. So, he bought a 3D printer for the next semester and began preparing a curriculum that would help his students understand the cycle of innovation and design. Bonus - whatever the kids made, they got to take home at the end.

The apprenticeship was a great success. France says he witnessed many mini-’wow’ moments as the kids showed what they had learned. 3D printing is popular, and there are now three classes being taught each semester.

“When kids are explaining 3D printing to adults, the inevitable reaction is ‘Wow, that sounds really hard, you must be really smart!”

France says this feeling of achievement isn’t a momentary thing. On the contrary, it can boost their self worth into the future.

“For most of the kids, 3D printing won't be something they go on to study in college, but the feeling that they were able to tackle something that was very complicated and intimidating at the beginning-- and at the end of the day they were able to do it-- they’ll have that tangible success going forward.”

France and Western Digital were honored at Citizen Schools California’s 2017 BenefitEd as volunteer and partner of the year, respectively. Since 2014, 109 Western Digital employees have “time-traveled” with 1,604 California students, teaching 109 apprenticeships and providing nearly $715,000 in grants to expand technology, STEM programming and more.