In today’s world, it’s generally not until students have completed their primary and secondary education that they are truly able to experience the professional world. Internships are a key component of preparing students for the challenges ahead, but what if we could get to students sooner? What if we did not wait until children became adults to broaden their learning experiences?
For the last two years, I have had the opportunity to mentor high school students through my employer and Junior Achievement’s 3DE (3D-Education) program. NCR Foundation, funded by NCR Corporation, supports programs in STEM and STEAM education like 3DE, which connect high school students to the real world.
Working with one of the seven 3DE schools in Georgia, Atlanta’s Frederick Douglass Academy, solidified my belief in what the future of education is: project-based learning (PBL). Growing up in a school in Germany that strongly believes in PBL, I have first-hand experience in its benefits, and now that life has come full circle, I will share its advantages.
Benefits for students
PBL and programs like 3DE tap into the problem-solving and qualitative parts of the brain that multiple-choice tests simply can’t. Students are pushed to be innovative and collaborative. They are also provided a level of access that many are not exposed to. Through the program, high-schoolers interacted with several NCR senior executives, and the winning group gets to spend time with our CEO. This is where 3DE really shines: very few students ever get that level of experience that early in their lives.
And while PBL is beneficial for high school students, implementing this learning style in younger students can be even more impactful. As Scholastic notes, it is difficult to break high school students out of patterns they learned in elementary and junior high school. Education researchers conducted a study showing the positive effects of PBL on second-grade social studies classrooms.
Through our program, we’ve seen these “a-ha” moments, where students essentially become young designers. They begin to re-think everyday experiences, and then start thinking about the technology that they need to make those experiences happen.
Benefits for corporations
For NCR, the experience was very rewarding. I was blown away by the intelligence of the student’s questions, their natural curiosity and the level of thinking for 10th graders — and their proposals on how to change our product experience for a younger audience.
The major benefit for us is the perspective shift. On an individual, team and company level, we needed to tap into our creativity for problem-solving. We also got to see the world through their eyes — these students are the next generation of consumers.
Through the initial briefing and mentoring, the students started thinking about technology very differently. Several students in each class that maybe weren’t thinking about a STEM career are now thinking about it. For us, that’s a win.
It’s time for tech companies to get on board
Through programs like 3DE, college projects and college outreach there is a connection that is made between the different age groups: high-schoolers, college students, early- and late-career professionals. We can all truly learn from each other and spend a moment putting the shoe on the other foot.
Florian Vollmer is a Service Design leader in the Retail Tech Operations group at NCR Corporation. He is also a lecturer at the School of Industrial Design at Georgia Institute of Technology.