By Emily Hill
This past semester, 15 students from Westminster Christian Academy learned about Computer Aided Design (CAD) as part of the school’s continuing development of its engineering curriculum and robotics program.
The class provides instruction in a CAD program called Siemens NX, industry standard software that is used for sophisticated computer design work at leading companies like Boeing, SpaceX and NASA. Taught by Westminster instructor and Siemens software engineer, Jeff Shultz, the class introduces students to 3D solid modeling, a skill invaluable to students pursuing engineering in college and in the field.
“For students who are considering engineering as a career, exposure to NX in high school is an incredibly marketable skill,” said James Zandstra, sophomore at Missouri University of Science and Technology. “The reason for this is that NX is not typically available to high schools even for educational purposes. The fact that Westminster has a 3D modeling course specifically using NX gave me a competitive edge when I was a student.”
Students are also given hands-on opportunities to apply the concepts they learn from the course through participation in the school’s FIRST Robotics team. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit organization focused on inspiring students’ interest and participation in science and technology. An annual FIRST competition allows high school students the opportunity to tackle engineering challenges in a team environment.
“Participation on the school’s FIRST Robotics team really puts you ahead,” said Zandstra. “I was able to easily secure several paid internship offers based solely on my participation on Westminster’s robotics team and my experience with Siemens NX.”
For alumnus Jonathan Bopp, junior at Missouri S&T, learning NX software at Westminster gave him an advantage in his college coursework.
“One of my mechanical engineering classes required that I generate a design in NX,” said Bopp. “This was incredibly easy because at the time I had been using NX for about three years, since my first exposure to the software at Westminster.”
NX knowledge was especially valuable to Bopp as a participant on Missouri S&T’s team for the University Rover Challenge.
“I have used NX extensively on the Mars Rover Design Team,” said Bopp. “My freshman year, I designed many components including the suspension, soil extractor, quick-release mechanisms, and a science bay. My sophomore year, I designed a robotic arm and gripper. NX gives me the freedom to design anything I can think up.”
Westminster alumni Zandstra, Bopp and Brianna De Groot were all members of the 2014 Mars Rover Design Team and placed second in last summer’s University Rover Challenge. The Challenge requires university students from across the nation to design and build the next generation of Mars rovers for future fieldwork.
All three alumni would agree that early exposure to NX software is important, not only to help students excel in the engineering field, but also in developing effective problem solving skills. De Groot, sophomore at Missouri S&T, who did not take Westminster’s CAD course while in high school, says in hindsight, she wishes she would have.
“By not knowing NX software before college, I have seen how important it is for engineering,” she said. “To learn NX in high school allows students to enter college with greater opportunities. NX is undoubtedly a valuable asset to projects students will encounter throughout college and beyond.”