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South Jordan Journal

Students learn 3D printing skills in free afterschool Hawthorn Academy club

Apr 12, 2024 12:18PM ● By Julie Slama

Hawthorn Academy STEM specialist Katie Rivera and teacher Stephen Mesker help students with their designs during the school’s afterschool 3D printing club. (Julie Slama/City Journal)

There’s a rush when sign-ups open for the start of a school quarter. 

That’s because it’s first come, first serve for a limited 15 spots.

It’s not for a favorite class or tickets to an event.

It’s for third- through sixth-grade students to get one of the coveted spots in Hawthorn Academy’s 3D Design Club.

In the club, students learn the basics of 3D printing using Tinkercad. As STEM specialist Katie Rivera shows tutorials on different projects, she joins teachers Steven Suggs and Stephen Mesker in helping the students through the tasks that often tie into holidays, seasons and special events.

For example, last fall, the students printed light-up ghosts for Halloween, turkey napkin holders for Thanksgiving and snowflakes and snowmen for winter.

Fourth grader Briella Alvarado wants to make butterflies this spring.

“I like that we get to make the shapes the way that we want,” she said. “I want to keep 3D printing when I grow up.”

Last school year, the South Jordan school began the club, which continued to be offered into the summer.

Briella was one of the students who enrolled last summer.

“During shark week, we made sharks that are flexible and really kind of cool, but mine broke when my 2-year-old brother was playing with it,” she said.

Last summer, there were two groups of students, each meeting for two hours per day, three days per week.

“It was the best because we had more time,” Mesker said. “We made the Delicate Arch using mostly orange colors and because we are the Beehive State, we made bees and honeycomb for the 24th of July. The last thing we did was make donuts and it was really fun.”

Students can also work on challenges, such as creating a birdhouse last summer. 

“Anytime they finished whatever project we worked on that day, they worked on the birdhouse and then we had people vote on which birdhouse they liked the best,” Mesker said.

Students have also used their skills as service. They made and printed 3D bookmarks for South Jordan and Herriman branches of the Salt Lake County library system and created covers they printed for the school’s hydroponic system in the cafeteria.

The club began last school year with a $15 charge per student. This year, there are a dozen 3D printers and it’s free, thanks to a Utah STEM Action grant. 

“The whole point of applying for the grant was to have it be equitable, so more people have access. We’re wanting students to learn engineering design skills,” he said, adding that he hopes the club will eventually evolve into a makerspace for the student body and the school will receive a state STEM designation.

Mesker said it’s those 21st century skills of identifying problems and finding solutions that is being taught.

“We teach them the skills, but the hope is to get everybody involved in STEM and get them prepared for future jobs. Many manufacturing jobs now use 3D design and 3D printing and other makerspace skills. We need to provide that education and opportunity to our students,” he said.

Rivera said every term there are new students who sign up in addition to some returning students, and appreciates seeing their progress.

“It’s fun watching their advancements from week one,” she said. “I like seeing what they can design outside of what we show them and sometimes, they teach us something we didn’t know — and that’s awesome.” λ