For MindYolk and WDI, a true teaching moment

Print lives: And MindYolk Animation Studio CEO Paul Lipsky is spreading the word through various educational efforts.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A multidimensional Long Island maker is rewriting the textbook on how to educate tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce – kinda literally, sorta.

Paul Lipsky, CEO of Plainview-based MindYolk Animation Studio and founder of digital-creator community Long Island Visual Professionals, is about to hand in the most critical college project of his life: a complete curriculum leading to a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in interactive computer graphics, which he plans to deliver to Dix Hills-based Five Towns College in February.

The degree program is “mine from the ground up,” Lipsky noted, but not the innovator’s first curriculum-creation foray. In the 1990s – in some ways, the wild frontier of the modern digital-graphics era – Lipsky wrote the very first 3D-graphics class curriculum for New York University’s Center for Advanced Digital Applications. He’s also contributed to the New York Institute of Technology’s Master of Communication Arts program.

Paul Lipsky: Curriculum vitae.

And this week, Lipsky closed the textbook on his first-ever primary school-level curriculum contribution, part of a private industry-local education collaboration designed to bring 3D printing into Long Island classrooms and address a regional workforce need.

Each of these educational efforts presented its own challenge – holding the attention of grade-schoolers is no mean feat, Lipsky noted, nor is meeting various accreditation guidelines required of college-degree programs, or keeping a curriculum current in an era of rapidly changing technologies.

That was a particular challenge, he added, in writing the Five Towns College degree program.

“There are a lot of degrees out there that claim they’ll get students jobs in creative media, make them a real digital artist,” Lipsky said. “But a lot of them fall short because their curriculum is outdated.

“This incredibly innovative fine arts degree basically redefines the foundation of skills a person will have coming out of the program.”

That includes a heavy focus on programming, 3D modeling, additive manufacturing – in essence, 3D printing – and subtractive manufacturing, which involves use of Computer Numeric Control technology.

And that’s just one expression of a common theme running through Lipsky’s myriad curriculum projects – a “disconnect,” he says, between what’s being taught and what’s truly required of the modern workforce, particularly in current and future manufacturing fields.

The dichotomy is most evident on the primary-school level, where contemporary STEAM education (for science, technology, engineering, art and math) doesn’t always reflect the reality of 21st century manufacturing industries, according to Lipsky.

“There’s this misperception,” he said. “Students don’t understand manufacturing. They don’t see it as a really exciting, sexy career. They look at it as welding, covered in grease.”

For those and other reasons, a growing number of Long Island manufacturers – from startups to decades-old operations – have increasingly lamented a lack of qualified workers. The problem is profound, according to Rosalie Drago, Huntington-based regional director for the Workforce Development Institute, who references “hundreds of good-paying, STEAM-related jobs in manufacturing right now on Long Island” and a scarcity of qualified takers.

Rosalie Drago: Workforce pilot.

“Parents and students are under a misconception about manufacturing that keeps these jobs unfilled,” Drago told Innovate LI.

At the same time, she added, public schools are tightening their focus on STEAM education – and “conversations” with the South Huntington Union Free School District in particular determined teachers there were “hungry for ways to connect STEAM to real-life experience,” Drago noted.

To that end, the WDI and LaunchPad Huntington – the Workforce Development Institute’s Long Island home – anchored a collaborative effort uniting South Huntington schools, Ronkonkoma manufacturer East/West Industries and Lipsky, who according to Drago was “a go-between to translate the employer and skillset needs and help train the teachers to teach that stuff.”

“It’s the only way you’re going to close that gap,” she said.

Lipsky met with East/West Industries representatives before outlining the South Huntington curriculum, and said the “open conversation” not only helped narrow the specific skillset parameters the manufacturer requires, but perfectly illustrated the disconnect between the perception and reality of modern manufacturing.

“They’re making ejector seats for helicopters,” he said. “This is really exciting stuff. When students get to see what manufacturing is really about, they become more interested in entering the field.”

Lipsky’s first attempt at a non-university-level curriculum was dominated by one challenge in particular: teaching advanced computer-modeling concepts to young minds. He spent a lot of time “trying to find the most appropriate 3D-modeling program” and finally came across Tinkercad, a computer-aided design program by California software firm Autodesk.

Not only does the free program have a “really nice educational ecosystem built around it,” Lipsky said, but after he consulted with Autodesk on his curriculum project, the company volunteered to donate three 3D printers to the South Huntington district.

The printers were in place by December, when Lipsky first met with students and teachers for a tutorial on designing on-screen with Tinkercad. This week, the curriculum creator returned for the second day of the two-part class, delving deeper into digital fabrication “with manufacturing thoughts and processes in mind,” Lipsky said.

These were relatively small steps – Drago said the “pilot program” with South Huntington schools was simply “phase one,” and the WDI is “in talks” with other Long Island school districts – but important ones.

Especially so, according to curriculum king Lipsky, during this rare alignment of economic motive and opportunity.

“You have this focus on STEAM and you have educational institutions that want to get students good-paying jobs,” he said. “And on the other side, you have manufacturers that have jobs.

“These are collaborative, project-based learning models,” added Lipsky, who also teaches broadcast design and 3D animation classes at Hofstra University. “And most important, students are learning to model something on the screen and turn those pixels into atoms, infused with their STEAM curriculum.

“There are all sorts of different things about manufacturing that would be useful for students to know before beginning an entry-level job.”