Whitman-Hanson Regional High School received a seven-word surprise during a site visit from representatives of Otter Products on behalf of its Otter Cares Foundation: “Do you guys want your grant today?”
Business and Technology Education teacher Julie Giglia had expected to be simply answering questions as a finalist for a $1,600 Innovation Station grant with which to purchase a 3-D printer. Otter Products manufactures consumer electronics accessories.
She had included computer-aided drafting (CAD) student Michael Shea in the meeting to help make her case, so to say she was surprised by Otter Operations Specialist Drew Hovanec’s question would be a bit of an understatement.
“I feel like it’s Christmas,” a gobsmacked Giglia said. “It’s like I won the lottery.”
Hovanec was accompanied by Whitman resident, and Otter Production Manager Thomas Paola, on the “site visit.” Paola, whose son Anthony was a student of Giglia’s, and Hovanec work in Otter’s Canton office.
“However you worded it, you really stuck out,” Paola said, adding that she served W-H well in an extremely competitive grant application process.
“We provide financial aid to schools and students,” Hovanec said to start the meeting also attended by Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak. “We’ve had 49 applications for the funding, we just want to know how you wanted to use it and move forward with it.”
Giglia, who wrote the grant application, said the tight budget situation at Whitman-Hanson was a major factor in her decision to seek the funding.
“To do these things outside the box you either have to raise money … or write grants,” she said. “It’s been a good year for me so I thought, ‘Why don’t we try to find a grant to see if we could bring a 3-D printer here?’”
According to her application, Giglia wants to use the 3-D printer, among other purposes, as a tool for her CAD students to use in a project to develop a smartphone cover that is lightweight to carry and easy to produce. The project’s ultimate goal is to sell the phone cases to fund costs and maintain the 3-D printer.
“We’re here to kind of dive in and see the passion and it sounds like you guys sound like you have a ton of it,” Paola said.
The district is currently lacking a 3-D printer.
Giglia has taught CAD for five years at WHRHS.
“When you create a design and you can print something out and touch and feel it, it just brings a whole learning curve and excitement,” she said.
Shea added that 3-D printers are definitely the future.
“Right now, there’s not a lot of teaching to how to use them,” he said, adding that the situation affects student’s potential growth. “The learning and the technology isn’t connected right now.”
Szymaniak lauded Giglia’s initiative, noting a science teacher is also applying for a grant to obtain a 3-D printer specifically for engineering and physics.
“I have teachers like Julie saying, ‘Let’s look to the future. Let’s look to nonprofits and see what we can bring in to help our kids,’” he said.
Hovanec noted the W-H grant is only $1,600 and a lot of other applicants have asked for more. Giglia replied that she would like to be like Oliver Twist and ask: “Please sir, I want some more,” but that didn’t seem realistic.
“I try to be as realistic as possible,” she said. “I’m not here to break the bank.”
She said her mom always told her, when trick-or-treating, only take one piece of candy even if thee bowl is left on the porch and nobody’s around.
“We’re scratching the surface here, too,” Szymaniak said of the realm of 3-D printers.
Giglia’s excitement about the application and a potential field trip to the Otter Box headquarters in Colorado during her conversation with Paola’s son, Anthony, also worked in W-H’s favor.