3-D design software company Autodesk pledged more than $460 million to provide free professional software to schools in North America, reaffirming its commitment to STEM/STEAM education.

Autodesk moves full STEAM ahead with its commitment to education

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education has been a hot topic in education for many years. But recently, others are joining the movement to promote science, technology, engineering, and math education in America’s schools, and 3-D design software company Autodesk has positioned itself at the front of the movement.

With a pledge worth more than $460 million, Autodesk offers free access to its 3-D design software and applications to more than 35,000 middle schools, high schools, and higher-education institutions across the U.S. and Canada.

Autodesk is now focused on making its products available to a wider range of people outside the industry. The entire range of software is available to any school as long as the school is accredited, said Matt Pierce, Senior Manager of North America Education Programs.

Some school districts have the resources to implement Autodesk and similar programs into their curriculum. But many school districts don’t have those resources at their disposal, so “the spirit of this is to make these resources available to everyone,” he said.

Autodesk also offers resources to educators. Teachers can receive free e-training from Autodesk to learn how to use and implement Autodesk software in the classroom. Teachers also have access to curriculum that is accredited by a national standards board. The curriculum incorporates STEAM (science, technology, engineering, digital arts, and math) and is available for different grade and learning levels, Pierce said.

He added that individual students can access free Autodesk software for use at home or on a personal project outside of school.

“Our hope is that everybody that wants to learn these skills and has an interest in them has access to them,” Pierce said, adding that design software and the learning potential should not be limited to schools with resources.

But Autodesk’s commitment to learning goes beyond offering software. It’s one of several companies that has joined federal efforts to promote STEM/STEAM education.

In November 2009, President Obama launched Educate to Innovate, an initiative aimed at moving American students to the top in math and science achievement. Educate to Innovate joins the efforts of the federal government with those of leading companies, foundations, nonprofits, and science and engineering societies.

In that vein, Autodesk has partnered with the government in ConnectEd, another initiative from the Obama administration, which aims to provide 99% of American students with access to “next-generation broadband by 2017,” according to a White House release.

Pierce said he’s received feedback from several school administrators about the success they’ve had integrating Autodesk software into their curriculum.

Students from Gulliver Schools in Miami, FL, have embraced both STEM education and the implementation of design software. Gulliver works closely with Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a nonprofit that provides educators with STEM programs, including curriculum and other resources. Autodesk is a major partner of Project Lead the Way, and PLTW built a project-based learning program in cooperation with Autodesk software.

Gulliver’s engineering program uses design software programs for its projects, notably its LiTreS project, a water filtration system the students designed for use in developing countries, such as Haiti and Nigeria.

Claude Charron, the chair of Gulliver’s engineering and biomedical program, said 3-D design software is a “gigantic resource and it’s such a great tool.” The program has received more than $80,000 in grants over the past several years, and Charron attributes that success, in part, to the students’ ability to show and illustrate ideas and projects through design software, both in presentations and competitions.

“Sometimes we can’t make what we’re trying to do,” Charron said, adding that design software allows the students to showcase their ideas and plans to both judges and investors.

Because Gulliver’s STEM education program is available for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, some students are first being introduced to 3-D design software in fifth or sixth grade, Charron said.

The “students take it a lot further than I teach them. I just point them in the right direction,” he added.

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