Spark! Engineering dedicates time to passion projects and design groups. Passion projects encourage students to create something about their interests using skills they’ve learned from the course. Design groups are assigned at the start of the course and maintained throughout the year, allowing students to tackle long-term engineering tasks. Senior Frank Chen and his design group were challenged to create a lightbulb charger.
“Most days at the Spark! are pretty chill. Whether creating ideas for design groups, sketching, computer-aided design (CAD) modeling or what have you, we’re always doing something productive,” Chen said. “[I love] being [given the opportunity] to dive into our interests with the aforementioned passion projects. That part of the class is great because we’re not forced to do something we couldn’t care less about. We can explore our passions and what we truly love and then apply ourselves to create a product that each of us would be proud of. I think that’s an important part of education that a lot of schools are missing.”
Passion projects can be any personally-driven engineering pursuit. They are typically worked on at home, but some days are dedicated to their development at the Spark! Incubator facility. They aim to fill the void of choice studies for professional and career development.
“One of my friends is interested in civil engineering, so they have their passion project related to city planning. I love cars, so I’m designing and prototyping a 1/8th-scale radio control car. I’m having a blast with it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Chen said. “Most students complain that schools should let us work on things they would pay attention to, and I think that’s a fair thing to complain about. School is supposed to set us up for our lives and what we want to do with it. Spark! does exactly that since passion projects can be whatever we want. For them to provide us that missing piece and give us that opportunity is awesome.”
The program offers connections and visitations to operating companies. Students go on-site to see the inner workings of facilities and even shadow these locations independently.
“Seeing how such a place operates provided great insight into the field because it told me things about engineering I didn’t know before. When they hear the word ‘engineering,’ most people would probably just picture someone building a big machine. It’s not just that. It can be drawing on a computer and 3D modeling,” Chen said. “It’s especially educational, seeing the real thing. I got to see some of the machines they had to create those systems, which was neat, but more importantly, I was able to talk face-to-face with workers there and just see how they operate. I got an idea of their work culture, and they told me more about certain engineering fields.”
“[The career and internship opportunities] are a major door [opening] for us because we can jump directly into working in the field. I’ll be able to work with actual engineers and gain experience, so expanding my horizons by getting opportunities to work with these companies is how I’m taking advantage of Spark!. It’s not just the engineering branch that provides these opportunities,” Chen said. “It’s fantastic that the district has allowed us to do any of this, and I’m grateful I’m in it. I certainly won’t forget it since it paves my path.”
The social aspect of Spark! allows students to converse with those from other Parkway and Rockwood schools. Activities and curricula strive to create a stronger feeling of freedom and individuality than standard schooling.
“Much of the time, I also get to talk to the friends I’ve made through the program, plenty of which aren’t West students. It feels good; all of us share a common passion for engineering, and talking about what we’re working on lets us create a strong bond, so the chemistry and air at the incubator are fantastic,” Chen said.