In the welding class at Pine River-Backus High School, teacher Steve Sandeen works the room, checking in on students as they carve, cut, and create.
For several weeks, students have access to a laser engraver, CNC router, plasma cutting table, and 3D industrial printer — all equipment rented through Tech Mobile.
“[For] a small school like us,” Sandeen notes, “I’ve got about a $6,000 budget for my classes. I’d never be able to afford this kind of equipment and exposure if it weren’t for Tech Mobile.”
During class, Sandeen points out a student who works part-time at Halverson Wood Products in Pine River and now has the ability to run the plasma cutter on the job after receiving hands-on training in the classroom.
“This is real-world stuff,” Sandeen said. “A lot of businesses are going to have this exact equipment and students are going to need to know how to operate and maintain it. So, this exposure is huge for these kids. Tech Mobile is really linking a gap in education.”
Since 2014, Tech Mobile has provided a unique experience for schools and students throughout the Sourcewell region of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties. Tech Mobile, a partnership between the Browerville School District, Central Lakes College, MState, and Sourcewell, took to the streets — literally — giving students exposure to industrial equipment and career exploration.
In July 2019, Tech Mobile switched gears and was taken on full-time by Sourcewell. Building upon its previous success, Sourcewell devoted a team of consultants to not only add more state-of-the-art equipment, but to work on standards connections and offer staff support — making it easier for teachers to embrace the opportunity.
Delivering experiences, expertise
At the wheel is consultant Aaron Logan. Logan serves as a large equipment specialist and travels with Tech Mobile to provide adequate professional development and training for teachers. Rather than deliver and dump, Logan ensures staff and students have a working knowledge of the machines to enhance their experience.
“We don’t just deliver the machine and say, ‘here you go,’” Logan explained. “We follow up and make sure the teacher feels comfortable teaching the students exactly how to use the machine before we leave.”
Logan also maintains and services Tech Mobile equipment — before, during, and after — ensuring machines are at their best.
“Through Tech Mobile, students are gaining access to the types of equipment they may see in their future careers,” Logan said. “And, regardless of the size of the school or district, each student has equal access to some of the best technology out there.”
Accessibility for all
Rather than expecting each school to purchase this type of equipment, Tech Mobile provides rental opportunities — charging a nominal fee based upon the length of rental and tier of technology.
For example, the laser engraver – a machine that can etch the surface of almost any material — is a Tier 2 piece of equipment and is rented for a timeframe of four to eight weeks. The fee is also based on the number of students using the machine. This helps maintain cost equity between all schools, regardless of size.
Bringing science to life
Working with their district-assigned Tech Mobile coach, teachers can easily gain access to any of Tech Mobile’s variety of large and small equipment, kits, and devices.
While many of the larger pieces of equipment are geared toward high school students, several offerings exist for elementary- and middle school-aged students
This month, using curricular resources like Snap Circuits and Little Bits, students at all six elementary schools in the Brainerd School District are learning about electricity and magnetism; exploring with conductors, insulators, and circuits. Fourth graders at Sebeka Elementary utilized the LEGO We Do 2.0 sets to combine science, engineering, and technology with fun, hands-on activities.
Teachers can view a list online showing what’s available to schools, along with a brief description of each kit or piece of equipment. An online calendar shows availability of each item and allows teachers to make reservations throughout the school year, making recommendations for average rental time.
Learn more at sourcewell-mn.gov/tech-mobile.