Teaching At-Risk Teens: Failure is Not Final & 3D Printing Skillset Offers Path to Future Career Successes


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YQLogoBannerwSubhed200x134jpg2While most of us encounter numerous speed bumps, hurdles, crises, and challenges in our adult lives, it’s just the natural course, and offers a way to continually learn and grow, even if it’s a major bummer at the time. Although it’s not easy, we dust ourselves off and keep going, both enjoying and enduring the valleys and the peaks—while hoping to avoid the abyss of serious trouble. All too often though, kids too are experiencing enormous obstacles early in life, often brought on by their living circumstances and lack of supervision.

Not equipped to handle the climbing of mountains so early, indeed many teenagers do end up in that desolate abyss via juvenile hall, jail, or worse, and the idea is to help them before they even get to that point. With teen suicides at an alarming rate, along with drug use and involvement in crime, the adults who reach out, take their hands, and guide them forward are an invaluable source. Most of us had a teacher who inspired us, a mentor, or a relative who was our greatest role model, but these individuals—like those involved at YouthQuest Foundation—are saving, rehabilitating, and helping to push these kids back into society as success stories.

The team at YouthQuest Foundation, which we first heard about last summer, sees 3D printing as an incredible tool for learning. It’s easy to see how any of the younger generation would gravitate naturally to the opportunity to learn about digital design and 3D printing. And while the goal is to see kids empowered and inspired, eyes lighting up as a model is being produced before them layer by layer, it’s certainly just as powerful for the adults who are not only supervising but are participating too.

“In the process of learning the basics of 3D design and printing, our students develop sorely needed critical thinking and problem solving skills. They discover that failure is not final, and mistakes are opportunities to learn and make improvements. It’s gratifying to see how this project changes their way of thinking and inspires them to pursue their dreams,” Steve Pendlebury, Communications Director of YouthQuest Foundation, told 3DPrint.com.

Founded by Lynda Mann and Allen Cage, Jr., the YouthQuest Foundation works specifically to award at-risk teens with educational scholarships. This is their tenth year operating as a non-profit, and they have become quite successful at helping kids who have dropped out of high school or run into other challenges to become thriving adults.


Students, upon finishing building out their JellyBox 3D printer kits.

The focus on 3D printing is certainly relevant in terms of working to provide teens with a skillset that will impress upon graduation and if they are headed to college, gives them a head start over many other kids who have not yet been exposed to the technology.

“Whether they are interested in pursuing a college degree or developing proficiency in a trade, our scholarships make continuing education possible for those at-risk teens who have embarked upon a new path by participating in a viable program focused on helping them reshape their lives,” states the team on their website.

With the foundation’s 3D ThinkLink Initiative, students are exposed to a whole new world as they learn how to be creative and achieve goals through 3D design and printing. With this program, they actually partner with 3D Systems, who has been responsible for providing them with a lab full of Cube 2 3D printers. The Cube 2 has been the machine of choice for the initiative since 2013—with over 200 students having learned the ropes of 3D printing on them.

CubeBoxes880-860x280With a number of new printers delivered last Christmas, now teens in the program are afforded the luxury of getting right into a project rather than having to wait; in fact, for those at their 3D ThinkLink Lab in Chantilly, Virginia, there is now a Cube 2 available for every student. At a recent 40-hour training event there, the foundation had their largest group in attendance yet. Instruction was based completely on 3D design, 3D scanning, and 3D printing. In this formal lab environment, they were introduced to Cubify Sculpt, with intense discussion regarding the finer details of 3D modeling.

“As I began making the images and creating stuff I started to realize that this is a game-changer. It was amazing to me because I never even worked with this type of material before,” said South Carolina Youth ChalleNGe Academy (SCYCA) graduate John Smith. “It helped me realize my passion for art and my talent is there … and I can use it to help other people.”

They then began to focus on scanning techniques, testing and evaluating two kinds of handheld 3D scanning devices: the 3D Systems Sense and an HP tablet with Intel’s RealSense technology. Upon commencing with the project, they remarked that the tablet was easier to use—but that both scanners had trouble with darker-skinned individuals.

“Scanning can be aggravating when it messes up and you have to redo it, but it’s still really fun,” said SCYCA grad Emilee Bray.

FilipIntroAfter much exploring and learning, the attendees even went so far as to produce color mini-busts of themselves using the lab’s recently acquired Z450 powder bed printer.

“It’s cool to have a 3D figure of yourself,” said Emilee. “Nobody I know has that kind of stuff!”

They also learned how to assemble a 3D printer, via the The JellyBox, from iMade3D. Soon to be released for schools, this kit is meant to be taken apart and put back together again repeatedly for educational purposes.

“It was fun. I mean, we messed up several times, but we still finished in a day,” said SCYCA’s Justin Lewis.

“And for every mistake, we learned from it,” added Amadou Abakar, from DC’s Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy (CGYCA).

Just that one instructional experience was viewed as a life-changing experience for many of them, who at times became so immersed, they didn’t even want to break for lunch.

“Being involved in 3D ThinkLink makes me think about the different opportunities I have. Being here gives you a better chance of going somewhere, for example, college or getting a job,” agreed Josh Nembhard, a Freestate grad who plans to study visual design.

Recently, the foundation has been very glad to report that Emilee Bray, Kimora Felton and Kathaleen Polanco, each of whom earned scholarships in YouthQuest’s 3D ThinkLink essay competition, graduated from SCYCA in December, and they have all gone on to future educational endeavors, with Kathaleen starting the new year by enrolling in South Carolina’s Aiken Technical College.

Not only have these students been able to learn new skillsets that will help them as they continue and go on to careers, but they have been able to learn about themselves and others who are different, and begin to enjoy teamwork. These are kids are ‘get it’ and understand that indeed they are part of history in the making as a new technology gains a foothold in the mainstream of not only the US, but nearly every country. Their new skills allow them much better marketability in the job force—but more importantly, they have gained confidence and are going in the right direction. What do you think of these programs? Discuss in the 3D Printing for Success forum over at 3DPB.com.


Emilee Bray, Kimora Felton and Kathaleen Polanco

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