This is a story about American manufacturing, honoring heroes past and present, and teaching children in ways that text books and rote regurgitation cannot. This is a story about why I am optimistic about the future.
This is also a story about Kylan. He’s 8. Before I tell his story, though, I need to give you some background.
In Westminster, Colorado, a third grade class at Adams 12 STEM Launch School regularly invites a manufacturing CEO to come into the classroom to talk about, of all things, manufacturing. It’s done in conjunction with a program called Kids Connection, which was designed to form a bridge between kids and technology through bringing industry leaders and hands-on learning into the classroom. Although the program is less than a year old, manufacturers are already queuing up for the chance to enthuse young minds and inspire the future As a result of this program, the students have learned about aerodynamics and flight from Falcon UAVs.
And, through , an online retailer and microcontroller development board manufacturer, they’ve seen how to make the bits and pieces that make electronics projects possible.
Kids Connection is now a formal program of the CAMT, the Colorado MEP center, and, according to STEM coordinator Michelle Priola from Adams 12, the program is helping students see the world in a new way. Kids Connection is working. Kids Connection has a logo. Kids Connection has a brand. It also has a beginning and that beginning is where Kylan’s story enters our narrative.
Back before Kids Connection existed, Kylan wanted to build a present for his grandfather. He wanted to make something wholly unique for his Papa Mike, an AARP-card carrying Army veteran who served with 589th Engineer Battalion / Mountain Movers in Vietnam. Naturally, that present was a long board skateboard with Papa Mike’s military unit’s insignia in the design.
However, what Kylan possessed in enthusiasm, he lacked in money (and haven’t we all been there). He needed cash–three hundred dollars, to be exact. (That is a common problem for entrepreneurs.) Oh…and he had neither design nor manufacturing experience. He solved the first problem collecting scrap metal, selling it, as well as doing odd jobs and helping others in the community, saving all the profits in the Great Bank-of-Mom, He solved the second problem by partnering with Denver-based KOTA Longboards to design and build the perfect present for Papa Mike.
The owners and employees at KOTA include among their ranks Army, Navy and USAF tactical aviation veterans as well as graduates of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN). They are veterans of tours in Iraq and Somalia. They are veterans. They are entrepreneurs. They like to go fast. (I’m struggling to resist putting a cheap “need for speed” reference here.)
The KOTA name and those of all their decks are inspired by the heritage of the “historic military aircraft flown by the intrepid Knights of the Air. The Knights of the Air pushed the limits of their crafts’ performance while maintaining honor and respect. At KOTA we’re inspired to do the same.”
Working alongside the graphic designers at KOTA, Kylan learned about print layouts, typography and the computer programs that enable such things. After weeks at the drafting table, the design was finished. As you can see in the photo, the design includes pictures of Mike, the Mountain Movers logo, and an homage to the American flag. The Mike Commemorative Board was taking shape. Now, with drawing in-hand, Kylan’s board needed to be made, a custom production run of one. The wood needed to be cut, formed, and finished. In keeping with a Buy-American theme, all of KOTA’s board decks are handcrafted out of hard rock maple from Wisconsin.
The owners at KOTA were so generous with their time and sharing their story that naturally they were asked to talk to other aspiring creators at Kylan’s school. With the help of Kylan’s mom, a top-notch MEPer, a date was set to have KOTA and Kylan address the classroom about his experiences in raising capital, graphic design and manufacturing.
The day was a hit and not only was the seed for Kids Connection planted, it germinated. Kylan is the Johnny Appleseed for the entire thing. It’s now a regular program among the school, MEP and area manufacturers. That’s really sensational. But not nearly as sensational as a grandfather that longboards….