Profiles From a Distance: Wendie Siverts and CADD create successful support options for their students
Portland Community College’s Career Technical Education (CTE) programs provide students a pathway to gain skills, technical knowledge and real-world experience that will prepare them for careers in high demand, well-paying professions.
While COVID-19 has presented challenges, especially for CTE programs with hands-on learning, PCC’s teams quickly pivoted to find remote solutions to continue to serve the community.
Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) is an emerging industry, with a growing demand for trained technicians who can leverage technology to create designs for a variety of sectors, and it is one of PCC’s thriving CTE programs.
PCC’s CADD Program, with leadership from faculty like Wendie Siverts, is one of many programs that has risen to the challenge during the pandemic to remove barriers for students and keep them on track to complete their certificates. Both students and faculty have been able to adapt and use this as an opportunity to learn new skills that they will be able to apply — both in the classroom and in their new career paths.
What inspired you to teach Computer Aided Design and Drafting?
Wendie Siverts: I worked as an industrial designer for about 20 years before I started teaching, first as an adjunct for the Art Institute, then at PCC. I quickly recognized there is an almost universal drive to create things. That is one of the unique things about human beings compared to most other creatures — all the stuff we make.
With the advent of industrialization and mechanization, making things has required more and more specialized equipment and skill. CADD and 3D printing are turning that around and making the creation of completely custom objects accessible to so many more people. It’s really exciting for me to be able to share this and see students develop these skills.
How have students adjusted to working online and new class formats this year?
Siverts: Our students have been excellent at adapting and also have been very flexible and patient with me as I develop workarounds for things that we used to do in person that now must be completed virtually.
One of the CADD certificate courses is built around a group project. Students scheduled virtual meetings with their groups, and I checked in to advise them each week in their team meetings. It was exciting to see them thrive in this setting. In many ways, these remote meetings were good practice for work in industry, where you might be collaborating with someone on the other side of the world.
The projects turned out fantastic — I was so impressed with the creativity students employed to make things come together. This class runs again this year, and I am looking forward to building on what we learned last year.
What have been some of the unique challenges for CADD students with remote learning?
Siverts: The CADD (software) programs we teach need fast, powerful computers to run properly. Not every student has this kind of hardware, so many of our students use the CADD lab on campus to work on projects.
After we moved to remote operations, President (Mark) Mitsui began visiting Zoom classrooms to check in with students and faculty. He came to one of my classes and wanted to hear from students. One of my students mentioned the challenge of not having the necessary hardware to run the necessary CADD software.Shortly after that meeting, I learned that he had raised the concern with our IT department who quickly reached out to come up with a solution. We were able to use Splashtop software as an access point to our CADD computer lab so students could access the programs remotely. This quick solution allowed us to retain students who would have fallen behind without access to the lab.
Are there any creative solutions you have come up that will be permanent?
Siverts: Like a lot of other programs, we are learning new skills that can help us going forward. I will keep offering virtual one-on-one meetings. This means I can expand the times when I meet with students and also give them flexibility to not have to come to campus just to meet me. Many of our students work full-time or have other responsibilities, and the flexibility provided by remote learning has been really helpful.
There are other virtual solutions we may continue to use to benefit our classes as well. For example, for some of our classes we organize tours of local manufacturers. We were able to do a few of these remotely this year, and it worked surprisingly well -– in some ways better than in-person tours. I imagine we will encourage students to continue hosting Discord channels and other online meetups for their projects to build valuable collaboration skills that will be relevant and transferable to their careers.
Are there any new opportunities to look forward to in the CADD program?
Siverts: We are actively working to develop a two-year program as part of the Computer Aided Design and Drafting Program. As part of this effort, we are investigating some potential new courses. Students have had a strong interest in “Fixture Design,” and a course like this will provide excellent practice with problem solving that would transfer into many related jobs.
Through a grant, we recently acquired new fabrication tools for our CADD lab. We’ve added new 3D-printing technology, a five-axis desktop CNC and precision-measuring equipment. We are eager to integrate this equipment into our program when we return to campus.
Have you discovered any silver linings this year?
Siverts: My daughter is medically fragile and has had to be on a ventilator before, so I was very concerned for her health this year. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to continue teaching at first, due to greater risk of exposing myself and my family if we were to continue in-person classes. It was such a relief when I learned that our schools were putting health and safety first, and we moved to remote operations. I think it’s easy to forget about all of the people quietly making due: following the protocols, wearing a mask, social distancing. It means so much to me the way that students and everyone here at PCC just buckled in and made this work. Witnessing that selflessness and people doing all the things, even what seem like small things, because they care about people like my daughter –- that is my silver lining.
Thank you, Wendie!