Another letter, though from the same author as testimonial #1, about the impact of the type of learning students experience(d) in Design Lab/NOVA Lab.
Dear Mr. Heidt,
I hope you’re doing well! And that you remember me! I had an opportunity a couple weeks ago that reminded me of your class…so much so to the point that I texted Z__, and I haven’t talked to him in almost a year.
To backtrack a little bit, I am about to go into my third year at Syracuse (I just came across the email I sent you in my first year at school and it’s terrifying how fast time flies). And I am currently in Michigan doing an REU (it’s a National Science Foundation-funded undergraduate research program) which is at the University of Michigan. While I was here, I got to visit Greenfield Village which has the Henry Ford Museum (I’m staying at UM-Dearborn because my research is in Detroit on low-altitude wind turbines but I’ll get into that later) and we saw a FULLY OPERATIONAL DYMAXION HOUSE. To be completely honest I wasn’t even sure if it was Buckminster Fuller’s design because they didn’t really talk about him until the actual tour but I kept thinking about it, and when they started talking about Buckminster Fuller I got so weirdly excited, strange looks from people and all. It was crazy how everything tied back years later. And also how Bucky’s design was so functional (especially environmentally speaking) yet so impersonal. It’s nuts to me what people value, not that we can help it. But the story of the house just made human decision-making seem so arbitrary to me.
I’m sorry for the awkward transition but I need to move on before I go off on a tangent. Another thing that reminded me of your class here was the research I’m doing. It’s kind of awful. The actual research is super cool, I’m studying chemical engineering but I’m working in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering here. We’re trying to compile data of the power outputs of a low-altitude wind turbine designed by a Detroit local and see whether the power that they produce would be a feasible solution to helping communities with low energy access have more of a leg up, especially with how important internet access is in this time. The benefits are that you don’t need a giant wind farm to get energy from these (hence “low-altitude”) so they can be installed anywhere, they’re green, and they’re all made from upcycled materials. It’s super cool. But there’s a bunch of problems with the current collection systems. And everything I have suggested has been vetted 1000 times before implementation. It’s so frustrating, but it definitely made me think of Design Lab. Especially because we have the same factor going against us the most. Time. I only have ten weeks here, and I understand why they want us to have the best iteration of our ideas but it feels like I’m not getting anything done.
Institutions also suck. I know they’re funding and paying me but having to go through 7 different people/organizations to get the go-ahead to buy a fifty dollar part is really tedious. It was getting super frustrating a couple weeks ago when I came across a picture from Design Lab. It was of the chalkboard & believe it or not I had written it. But it was of “successes” and “opportunities” that we had. It definitely put me in a more positive mood and look at my setbacks from a different point of view. And this week we finally got some usable data and I finally got MATLAB to work with me & we actually have a power curve. So we’re making progress! Even if I’m only here for 3 more weeks!
I wanted to thank you for making Design Lab & Gifted Honors English the only classes that an engineering student was able to apply to life after high school. I really didn’t realize how much of what we learned wasn’t necessarily about just writing/grammar (although some of it was) but more about challenges we were going to deal with in the lab and in school and in life and how to channel those frustrations and roadblocks into something positive and productive.