Hannah Hailan Pang '16 is a part-time student staff writer for the Edgerton Center in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS).
On Saturdays in a bright, spacious classroom, MIT alumni and Edgerton Center volunteers John McGoldrick ‘73 and Mike Allen ’97 MNG ‘99 sit with young engineers, fervently discussing their new projects and ideas. The classroom is largely a shop, an ample room for large worktables and an extensive, if slightly chaotic, supply of motors, metal, and materials — a true embodiment of the hands-on teaching and project-based learning throughout the Edgerton Center programs. The people too, current and past MIT students, add to the Edgerton Center theme of learning-by-doing by being mentors in many areas of design and engineering.
For McGoldrick and Allen, coming back weekly to the Edgerton Center long after their own time as engineering students at MIT is a chance to add to the growth of the community.
“I want to feel like everyday is memorable,” McGoldrick explains, “and the way I direct my time here at the Center is to make my own favorite memories.” Indeed, on Saturdays, the Edgerton Center hallway teems with kids of all ages eager to get their hands dirty and create something cool. The Saturday program known as “The Saturday Thing” began at the Edgerton Center in 2006, thanks to the initiative of Ed Moriarty ‘76, an Edgerton Center instructor. Kids of all ages can invent, build, and tinker at their own pace with mentors – parents, alumni, MIT students, Edgerton Center instructors, and the kids themselves — who help them along the way.
These projects are not simply your average robot with servo motors and metal parts; students have made a harp with light that serves as ‘strings’ instead of real ones, flying bots, automated board games, tilting scooters, and more.
“The missing link in our educational system,” Moriarty says, “is the need for unstructured play in a structured environment. Having John McGoldrick and Mike Allen here to celebrate their victories and failures, makes the program.”
“You don’t really learn until you do something with it,” Allen adds. “That’s the Edgerton way.”
McGoldrick and Allen volunteer nearly every weekend throughout the year and spend hundreds of hours with young minds of all ages to continue the tradition and values of the person in whose spirit the program was founded, Harold “Doc” Edgerton. For McGoldrick, Doc himself was a personal mentor and professor during his time as an undergraduate student at MIT. Now as a mentor himself, John McGoldrick seeks to continue Doc’s ways and give back to the community by helping talented, driven kids not just learn about fun engineering possibilities but also sometimes improve social skills and interactions.
For both Allen and McGoldrick, coming to the Edgerton Center every weekend during the school year and sometimes every day during the summer for the four-week Engineering Design Workshop — a project-based engineering workshop for high-school students — is a fun and rewarding commitment. The students and kids who go to the Center to pursue their hobbies in building and engineering know them well for their teaching and mentorship.
“Learning is fun here,” recounts Isaiah Pina, a high school student at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science, currently working on a large-scale fluids project on weekends at the center.
“We get to go through all the thinking and building with John and Mike,” Pina continues, “Here, we can do all of this.”
At the Edgerton Center, “all of this” encompasses quite broadly anything that can be made from the vast resources around the shops and at MIT in general.
Because of dedicated volunteers like McGoldrick and Allen, students like Pina can discover the excitement of science and engineering up-close and hands-on. In these classrooms, there are no constraints in what they want to make; the mentor-volunteers here are former students coming back, this time not just to make their own cool devices, but to help many others bring their ideas to life.
Moriarty has helped to develop The Saturday Thing programs in Fairbanks, Juneau, and Nome, Alaska. If interested in beginning your own Saturday Thing, contact Moriarty at firstname.lastname@example.org.