A small fleet of robots spun, changed direction, darted across tabletops and patrolled the hallways of Brother Benjamin Hall this week, when Steve Drzewiczewski visited Louse Nelson's sciences classes to talk about the connection between the skills they are learning in school today and how those may relate to careers they pursue in the future.
Before he brought out robots for students to test drive, Mr. Drzewiczewski, senior manager of collaborative applications/information technology at iRobot, took students through a PowerPoint presentation that described the design process for a company like iRobot. When he asked what skills might be needed to work in robotics, hands shot up and students called out answers like “programming,” “engineering,” and “math.” All correct, he said, but don’t forget about the copywriters, artists, lawyers, salespeople, and accountants needed to run any company.
“I love talking with students about how what they're learning now can apply to careers in a way that makes the work they do meaningful to them," said Mr. Drzewiczewski, whose son, Sean, is a sixth grader at St. John’s.
A mechanical engineer by training, Mr. Drzewiczewski got the group’s attention when he said that design and engineering teams are encouraged to fail—and fail fast—because it makes for better products. “Don't be afraid to fail. If you make a mistake, look at it, learn from it, and move forward with a better, stronger design.”
Things got exciting when Mr. Drzewiczewski set up three Roomba vacuums and a small remote-controlled robot used for military applications like searching potentially hazardous buildings. Students wasted no time putting the devices through their paces. They navigated corners and obstacles with the remote-controlled device, and determined whether fine powder or garden variety dirt was tougher for the Roomba to clean up (the powder proved to be more of a challenge). They were impressed, shocked even, to watch the Roombas head right for the edge of a table, but not fall off. It’s these moments of recognition that Mr. Drzewiczewski loves to see.
"When they have a chance to drive the robots, they see how the sensors are similar to human sensors. And they know that someone had to build that mechanism using mechanical and electrical systems."
For Ms. Nelson, the visit was a wonderful opportunity for her students to connect school with the real world. "Mr. Drzewiczewski did a fantastic job of showing students the technology behind widely used objects," said Ms. Nelson. “I love for my students to see how they can apply what we do in math and science to their own lives. It's fascinating.”