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Hands-On Learning

Blues Guitar to Get Mod Makeover in Mobile Education Units

The blues guitar made famous in the Mississippi Delta will receive a high-tech makeover in an after-school program thought up by college students. A team of college students at an "Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship" (ADE) class received a $25,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund to create a "mobile educational unit" for use in the Delta's rural communities.

The college students come from Olin College of Engineering, Babson College and Wellesley College, all of which are within a few miles of each other. The grant came from a philanthropic fund run by Ford as part of its Community College Challenge, which supports higher education institutions as they work with students to design and set up community projects that address local needs.

The latest project is one of many undertaken by the ADE program over the last five semesters, working with partners in Coahoma County, MS, to help young people develop their technical and entrepreneurial skills. The pilot curriculum for the mobile unit will show kids how to make electric guitars from scratch using traditional and digital fabrication techniques. The lessons are intended to be taught in a bus or trailer, something that can be moved around from community to community. The grant will help fund the program for three to six months in five after-school programs to help the college students refine its business model and "work out the kinks" of running the mobile unit. The 12-week guitar-building program will rotate throughout the county, reaching about a hundred students a year.

"We believe that this project, integrating technology, arts and entrepreneurship, will expose local young people to a whole new world of possibilities through design while offering them the opportunity to practice teamwork, communication and planning," said Ben Linder, the director and founder of ADE. "The simple fact is that every middle and high school student in the country doesn't get the same chance to practice these critically important skills, so we are excited to see this pilot project in Coahoma County get a chance to get off the ground."

The project could also lead to a boost in the local economy, added Amon Millner, an Olin faculty member and angel advisor to the team. "The project's emphasis on skills-acquisition alongside creative self-expression is intended to build self-motivation, self-confidence and self-efficacy so that Delta youth will be better prepared to make creative thinking and expression open new opportunities for career and personal development. We also hope the focus on entrepreneurship will lead to the creation of sustainable enterprises that will help improve the economy of the region as a whole."

Within the ADE program, as new students from the three colleges join in, they continue with the work of student teams from previous semesters, which may run for several years. The goal of ADE is to set up projects that will eventually be taken over by the local partners. Other initiatives undertaken by ADE have involved air quality, food processing and global health.

More information about the project is available on the Ford Community College Challenge website here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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