In a world where high-tech is the new normal, core competencies in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) have never been more critical.
STEM disciplines at Gann Academy have a friend in high-tech entrepreneur Jon Hirschtick, parent of Will Hirschtick ’13 and creator of SolidWorks, the go-to 3D CAD (Computer Aided Design) program for some two million users worldwide. Chances are, everything from your cell phone to the cup holding your coffee was designed in SolidWorks—today a $600 million subsidiary of Dassault Systèmes.
Gann adopted SolidWorks as its CAD software around the time Josh Grinberg ’11
was a member of the school’s engineering team, now called IRAD
(Independent Research and Design). Grinberg learned the program in order to design a weight-stabilizing stretcher conceived by two Gann students who, in an ROTC training exercise, rescued an injured hiker trapped on a wooded mountainside, miles from nowhere. Their stretcher was awarded a U.S. patent earlier this year. (The four Gann alums named on the patent are Shane Skikne ’11, Alex Deardorff ’09
, Ben Deardorff 09′
, and Grinberg.)
Grinberg subsequently interned at SolidWorks for two consecutive summers. “Interning at SolidWorks was an incredible experience,” he says. “It taught me the importance of company values. Everyone I worked with was amiable and collaborative. When I asked my manager how SolidWorks got it right, he pointed to the top. Jon Hirschtick is an extraordinary leader: brilliant, honest, and friendly. If I ever start a company, I hope to model its values after those instilled at Solidworks by Mr. Hirschtick.” Grinberg is currently pursuing a degree in computer science at Stanford University.
“Jon Hirschtick and SolidWorks have been great resources for Gann,” says Josh Neudel, Chair of 21st Century Learning & STEM at Gann. “Jon has visited the school on several occasions, most recently last year, when he and SolidWorks co-founder, Scott Harris, met with the robotics teams
to discuss their projects and how they were applying CAD software.”
“The Gann robotics teams’ use of SolidWorks CAD is impressive,” says Hirschtick. “Until recently the program was strictly a professional tool, but it’s allowing these high school students to do 3D modeling.”
Move Over Robby
Some readers may remember the movie Forbidden Planet
and its star—Robby the Robot. Robots have come a long way since then. In fact, robotics teams have emerged as the unexpected rock stars of Gann Academy. The teams participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge
(FTC), where they design and build robots to compete in games at the local, state, national and international levels. In the robotics program’s first year, Gann’s team RABBI (Robots and Brain Bots Inc.) won the prestigious Inspire Award at the world championships.
“We started with six students and now, in our fourth year, we’re up to four teams,” says Neudel, who explains FTC’s popularity as a factor of offering both engineering and an entrepreneurial experience. “In addition to building robots, students get involved in branding, marketing, community outreach, and fundraising—almost like a mini start-up company. They’re competing for several awards, including an engineering design award—where SolidWorks is a big plus.” Gann’s Hutzbot and Pluralist teams have won the Connect and PTC Design awards respectively.
What’s Next for Jon Hirschtick?
In 2012, Hirschtick and Scott Harris founded Belmont Technology Inc. with a team of former SolidWorks colleagues. Products are in development and on the QT for now, but Hirschtick will say that they are “applying state-of-the-art computer technologies [cloud, web, and mobile] to challenges in the CAD/CAM, and CAE/PDM/PLM space.” (Non-engineers: Google it.)
The 25-employee start-up is composed of an elite team from the CAD, mobile, data center, and streaming media industries. It gets a healthy assist from its intern program, run by Dave Corcoran, co-founder and VP of R&D. Last summer, Gann graduate Gabe Kaptchuk ’11 made the cut to intern at Belmont.
“When I see Gann on a resume, I know it’s someone we’re going to want to look at,” says Hirschtick. “There are lots of kids who test well in math, but the Gann name tells me these are kids who are also thoughtful and mature. They know how to engage in debate in a constructive way, and they’re not afraid to express their opinions.”
“I feel very fortunate to have been picked to intern at Belmont,” says Kaptchuk, a computer science/electrical engineering major at Johns Hopkins University. “The company will, no doubt, become a major player; and I will have had the opportunity to work for them in their start-up phase.”
“Not only did Gabe do the technical work assigned to him, he was able to articulate aspects of his work and inform—at times instruct—his senior colleagues,” says Hirschtick. “We’re talking about a college undergrad who walks into a room of 20 elite engineers with PhDs from MIT and IIT [the Indian equivalent] and interacts like a peer. Gann kids have had more of that kind of leadership and debate experience. They have a strong sense of themselves and how they fit into a team and a community.”
Kaptchuk, too, credits Gann Academy for instilling skills that have made him a more effective team member. “At Gann, you hear the word ‘community’ tossed around a lot. It’s not until you get out in the real world and have to plug into a team and other groups that you realize, there must have been some value in the repetition of that word. I definitely feel at ease integrating into team situations, both as a listener and a contributor, and I have Gann to thank for that confidence.” Kaptchuk plans to return to Belmont this summer.
Grinberg shares his classmate’s confidence. “As an 11th grader, I was the youngest SolidWorks intern by three years, but I felt comfortable in the corporate environment because working with Gann headmaster, Rabbi Baker, and the student council taught me how to interact with older decision-makers.”
Innovation Never Sleeps
The 21st century is shaping up to be an exciting time: at Gann, at Belmont Technology, and throughout the high-tech world. At Gann, a STEM Innovation Lab is planned for the near future. “It’s going to be a unique, experiential space where students can push the limits of innovation in STEM subjects and ultimately other disciplines,” says Neudel. “The goal of the lab will be to develop our students’ skills in areas such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration. Strengthening STEM literacy and teaching these 21st century skills are essential to developing dynamic leaders who are better prepared to tackle unique challenges in an ever-changing world.”
Leaders like Grinberg, who hopes to pursue a career developing defense technology for the U.S. and Israel; and Kaptchuk, who’s been contemplating start-up ideas since high school, proudly look back at Gann. Meanwhile, the world is waiting to see what new contributions Belmont Technology will bring. Would-be interns take note: if you want real-world STEM experience and think you’re up for the challenge: Belmont is always looking for the best and the brightest.
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