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Virtual reality goggles open students’ eyes to engineering

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When Greenwood eighth-graders Heaven Carmichael and Brooklynne Wilson first put on the virtual reality goggles, they weren’t sure what to do or where they could move.

Technically nothing was in front of them, but they saw a life-sized locomotive engine. In virtual reality, students could walk around the assembled engine or have the engine blown apart, allowing them to see the interior working components.

“It’s kind of like walking through a video game,” Carmichael said.


Cummins Inc., based in Columbus, uses the $140,000 virtual reality program to inspect engine designs. Because the program allows workers to see all of the parts of the engine, they can find potential design problems, such as whether a component would be too hard for a mechanic to reach or repair, Cummins employees Mike Hughes and John Irons said.

“It essentially mends the gap between someone who’s on the computer, and someone who’s working on (an engine) in the field,” Hughes said.

Cummins brought their virtual reality equipment to Greenwood Middle School on Friday so that about 250 eighth-graders taking an information technology class could see the kinds of equipment engineers are using now, and are planning to use in the future. Students also heard from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis sophomore Katlyn Driesbach what they need to know now if they think they want to study engineering or other technical careers in college.

This school year, school districts in Johnson County have been looking for ways to partner with area businesses and companies and show students what kind of careers they can pursue if they take lots of math and science courses in high school and college. Friday’s presentation was a way for students to see the kinds of equipment they could use as engineers, and Driesbach told students what they can start doing now to prepare themselves for the kinds of engineering courses that are required in college.

The presentation didn’t convert everyone — Wilson still wants to be either a singer or a chef. But if even a dozen students decided to start taking more rigorous math and science courses as high school freshmen, then that’s a win, assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said.

“You see a few of them go, wait a minute, this is what I like to do. I could do this,’” Ahlgrim said.

If students start thinking about their careers as they’re preparing to graduate, especially careers involving math and science skills, then it’s already too late, Ahlgrim said. Schools need to get students thinking earlier about what they might want to do for a living so that they can start taking the kinds of courses they’ll need earlier.

Cummins contacted Greenwood and asked to show students the virtual reality equipment, because the employees they and other companies will hire in the future are in middle school now, Hughes and Irons said.

Cummins will need employees who took as many math and science courses as they could in high school, so that they were prepared for more rigorous math, science and engineering courses in college. If students wait to take those courses, they may not be prepared for careers as engineers when they graduate.

Schools and businesses need to show students more of the engineering and other technical careers available, so students can think earlier about the kinds of courses they’ll need to take, they said.

“Jobs are coming back to the United States, and we need to prepare students to go into those fields of design, engineering and technology,” Greenwood teacher Chris Campbell said.

Starting early was essential in helping Driesbach make it through her first year at IUPUI’s engineering program, she said.

Driesbach, who went to high school in Knightstown, took as much math as she could in ninth through 12th grade, and also took vocational courses. Driesbach joined her high school’s robotics club, which is where she learned engineering, software programing and computer-aided drafting skills.

So when she got to college, Driesbach was taking classes that taught skills she already had.

“It just kind of gives me a head start because I can go into a class and ace it because I learned the stuff a year before,” she said.

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