Monday, September 9, 2013

msoe rpc visit/ soapbox rant

I took a tour of MSOE's Rapid Prototyping Center today. I have never seen such large machines printing such detailed parts. The tolerances are mind boggling. I believe they have some of the most sophisticated and expensive 3D printing machines in the state, if not the midwest. I can't imagine what their operations budget is each year. They have a dedicated Director who does no research or teaching, but handles all of the various corporate relationships. Their mission and focus is much different from what I imagined, but they are focussed on doing work for corporations and that would take a lot of dedication to the client with very little room left for teaching or research. The Director commented on how they strive to create the best parts that they can and that this requires them to stay on top of maintenance and processing in order to turn out those parts. Their service contracts with the various machine manufactures must be a staggering cost. The folks there were very kind with their time and willingness to show me around. i am very grateful and feel that I had a real eyeopener about what it is that I am trying to do.

I see now that what we are doing in the DCRL (on a shoestring budget I may add) is very different from MSOE's lab. In the future, our lab will have to choose a direction that is much more clear and concise than what we currently have. At this time, many people at my University are in favor of the "corporate connection". This obviously helps funding and helps to keep the doors open, but the education sometimes get's thrown out the door when you and your students become a service to industry. I prefer the fact that anyone that takes a course in our lab gets access to low end versions of cnc and fdm equipment and that the students have the ability to use their creative potential to create the things that THEY WANT to create. A greater number of students are able to access the equipment and learn the skills AND hopefully are engaged because they own the means of their production. Granted, I think there are merits to different ways of doing things, but currently I feel the pressure to turn what we're doing into a service to industry, to other faculty, to other departments, and to students who are lazy (they think that the machines we have will make "life easier" by making it for them). The bottom line is that the DCRL is none of these: it is not a place where people can HAVE things made FOR THEM. Rather the DCRL is place where people can come to LEARN about solving problems through making things and hopefully they'll gain some valuable knowledge along the way that they'll apply to the next problem they have. It's also a place where students can collaborate with each other and learn from each other. It's a place of open sharing and isn't focussed on protecting the research and work done within. It doesn't get much more simple than that. Are you starting to see the problem I face? The current higher education model would never align with this train of thought. Research and Service takes a back seat to Teaching. No wonder our country is lagging behind when it comes to education. What a bummer...

Sorry to digress and to get on my soapbox. This was not the point of this post at all. I hope that you realize that MSOE did not prompt this response (although they helped me to understand what my position is on things at my institution)but rather some of the interest that has been brewing at my school to the things that we have been doing in the DCRL. I'm trying my best to stay true to myself by making decisions with the students best interests in mind. That has always helped me to make choices in the past. It also explains my problem with faculty meetings and the things discussed within. If we were having discussions about what is best for the students, then we would forgo most of the meetings and be able to skip over all of the political and power grabbing junk that is normally the real reason behind most initiatives and agendas. 

From this talk, if you didn't know better you'd think I wasn't on sabbatical. That's why I had to make an auto-reply message for my work email address this weekend; to keep them from dragging me into this stuff while I'm supposed to be away. So much for a calm year...

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