June 16, 2024

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How YouthQuest Brings STEM Education to At-Risk Youth

It was a field trip into the workplace of disruptive technologies you might expect for an affluent high school or college student. They headed to Terrapin Works, the University of Maryland’s 3D printing center, to study the various uses and equipment of their newly formed 3D printing skills to print plastics, metal, ceramics, and even living tissue and biomaterials for treatments like bone and blood vessel replacements.

After their morning at the Terrapin Center, they drove to Baltimore to visit The Foundery, an industrial marketplace. They watched computer-controlled machines in action, and peered into the opportunities their new CAD software knowledge offered in additive manufacturing, whether working with a desktop 3D printer, industrial cutting machine, or another computer-controlled device.

These were the 3D ThinkLink students from Maryland’s Freestate ChalleNGe Academy and DC’s Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy, part of the YouthQuest Foundation — and this was no field trip. It was a critical part of the reorientation of lives formerly spent in gang situations, on the streets, dropping out of high school, and other at-risk situations.

Not only that, but the students took the experience to their homes and neighbors, part of their transition from at-risk youth to dynamic mentors.

“As far as I’m concerned, this was the most successful immersion experience we’ve done,” YouthQuest Director of Instruction Tom Meeks said afterward. “We were totally focused this time on how to use their skills to be mentors to young people in their families and neighbor-hoods, and how to work in the community to demonstrate what 3D design and printing is.”

Stories like this continue to stream from the YouthQuest Foundation, co-founded by esteemed corporate trainer, consultant, and executive coach Lynda Mann. The YouthQuest Foundation provides academic and vocational opportunities for at-risk youth by teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They focus primarily on computer-controlled manufacturing and industrial work, such as the 3D ThinkLink program. Along with that comes the Youth ChalleNGe program, run by the National Guard, which gives high school dropouts another chance to earn a degree and proceed into a brighter future.

3D ThinkLink is the learning heart of the YouthQuest Foundation program. Troubled teens not only learn vital life skills, but also how to mentor. They study materials, learn processes, and print a variety of objects. It’s the academic and creative side of Youth ChalleNGE, a nearly six-month camp in which they live under the supervision of their National Guard hosts. One 3D ThinkLink scholarship recipient, 17-year-old LaMarcus Corley, wrote of his experience: “It has helped me control my anger. When I come to class, my whole mood changes. I become happy because I know that I’m in a good place.”

Another student, Stephen Brown, has shifted from experiencing difficult times to working toward a fashion design degree. 3D printing has moved into the fashion world in the past few years, perfect for his career arc. “It really helped me think outside the box and I can use that to my advantage in the future,”
Brown said. “As I pursue my career, the 3D printer will really help me print out prototypes of designs.”

In June, YouthQuest also presented scholarships to Freestate ChalleNGe Academy cadets Bradley Berry, Trevor Haney, and Dante Isom, and to Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy cadet Jacob Foote.

The mastermind of the YouthQuest Foundation, Mann has more than 3,500 hours of speaking, facilitation, and training platform time in key leadership and management topics. The career military officer is a certified trainer, consultant, and coach of workplace mediation, designated by the Mediation Training Institute as a Master Trainer and Subject Matter Expert in conflict resolution. She’s also an expert in resolving diversity issues in domestic and international settings, stemming from her work at NATO. Mann was also responsible for all leadership training for the National Guard; hence the tie-in to YouthQuest Foundation.

Under Mann’s leadership, YouthQuest also works closely with corporate sponsors. At their 13th annual golf tournament on August 6, 2018, more than 80 competitors teed off at Trump National Golf Club to raise funds for the SD ThinkLink Initiative.

Picture of By Robert Yehling

By Robert Yehling

Robert Yehling is a former Editorial Director of Sustainability Today, and STEM Today. He is the author, co-author and ghostwriter of 18 books, including the acclaimed "Just Add Water" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), the biography of autistic surfing great Clay Marzo, a finalist for the 2015 Dotty Gray Literature Award for outstanding writing on autism; and “Writes of Life: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life” (Open Books Press), called by the Midwest Book Review “the most comprehensive, diverse, and enjoyable writing exercise book on the market.”

Yehling has edited and shepherded more than 130 books in all genres,
including New York Times bestselling memoirist Lynne Martin ("Home Sweet Anywhere"), and 2015 International Book Award and IPPY Gold Medal winner for Visionary Fiction Lynnda Pollio ("Trusting the Currents"). His engaging, informative presentations have inspired writers for 15 years, and take him to conferences and classrooms throughout the country.

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