Shaping an Obsession

A favorite media lament these days concerns the lack of high-school graduates prepared to go forth into design, engineering, or technology. That’s why we have seen so much push recently on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs for our schools. Industry is clamoring for suitable people wanting to work in a technology-rich environment, and unfortunately, too many students are coming out of high school either uninterested or ill-prepared to take on the challenge of a technology degree. The same could be said of arts programs. Budget cuts across many school districts have lead to drastic slashes in all types of arts teaching, from music to painting.

So, for many students, whose interest might lie in art or technology (or as we will see, a bit of both) they are on their own. Whether they succeed in bootstrapping themselves into their career of choice depends largely on industry support, parental support, and in the end, their own gumption.

We recently ran on a story about a young man who is charting his career without the help of the school system. He is doing it on his own with financial and moral support from his parents. Jamie Goldstein is charting his own way.

Since 2006, when he first saw a picture of that year’s Camaro concept car, Goldstein knew that he wanted to be a car designer, what he now calls his “obsession.”

That may sound like the pipe dreams of a 12-year-old kid, but in Goldstein’s case, it was a dream that wouldn’t let go. In 2009, at the age of 15, and with his dream school, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, in his sights, Goldstein set about working on his portfolio; a good portfolio improves your chances of getting into a prestigious design school. Most young designers start their portfolios with sketches, drawings, renderings, and the like. But in Goldstein’s case, his very first portfolio project was to be a 1/18-scale clay model of his own concept car.

The thing is, Goldstein had almost no art experience, no mentor, and oh yeah, no familiarity in sculpting or working with clay. He set out to do something that he had no idea if he could even pull off. But an obsession is an obsession, so as Goldstein explains “I had a picture in my head of what I wanted, so I grabbed the clay and just started doing it.”

After two months of “just doing it,” Goldstein had a 10-inch long scale model of a concept car inspired by the first and second generation Corvette Stingray.

By itself, that would have been a pretty impressive achievement. However, once the model was done, Goldstein had another problem. Permanence. Because he had neither the money nor the tools to handle the specialty clay used by automakers for car modeling, he had used a commercially available sculpting clay that didn’t have the permanence he needed. After all, the model needed to hang around at least three or four years, until Goldstein applied to design school, and then survive being handled by others for portfolio review. You don’t want your portfolio coming apart in someone’s hands. That’s when the young designer started his next phase of self-teaching: finding a way to turn his clay model into a more robust portfolio piece. Over the next six months Goldstein researched and learned to converse with vendors on technologies he had never heard. It probably surprised the heck out of the sales staff of several CNC, scanning, and rapid prototyping companies when this high-school sophomore called them for quotes.

If you ask Goldstein what he learned from the process of starting from a lump of clay (a material he had never touched before) and ending up with a finished prototype (using a technology he had never heard of before), a project that took him eight months from start to finish, you might expect him to talk about all the cool technologies he learned about: 3-D scanning, 3-D printing, reverse engineering tools, CAD, and so forth.

But, no.

“Patience,” says Goldstein. “I’m pretty much into instant gratification and so I learned a lot about patience.”

And where is Goldstein’s car now?

“Right now it is on my desk,” he says. “Sitting there and being awesome. But it will be part of my portfolio for design school.” Goldstein has yet to apply for college (the Art Center is typically entered as a graduate program) but will be taking his SATs soon.

Certainly, it thrills me to see teenagers like Goldstein chart their own destiny. There is no doubt in my mind that he will succeed in whatever direction he goes. But what about the other Goldstein’s out there—talented, potential art, technology, or design enthusiasts—who don’t have the type of support and confidence that Goldstein has?

We need more mentors. If the schools can’t take up the mantle of preparing and encouraging those who have a desire to excel in a field, then industry must. We need companies to keep their eyes open for teenagers like Goldstein and support them, to take them under their wing. By the way, Goldstein hinted that GKS gave him a pretty good discount on their services. And so they should. I applaud them for it.

Helping students is something that Quality Digest also feels strongly about. For our own part, we just brought on a self-motivated intern, Aly Fields, who advanced her employment opportunities by taking it upon herself to earn a Six Sigma Yellow Belt and is now working toward a Green Belt. We’re helping her along by making sure she gets a lot of exposure to industry experts and that they get exposed to her. She will be blogging her experiences for us. Read her first blog here.

There are a lot of bright young students out there who can succeed if given the support. Imagine if every company in the United States, big or small, helped just one student a year inch toward his or her goal. Wow.

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