From the Family Farm to Concert Arenas

FarmThere’s a fantastic video on EduTopia about learning STEM through agriculture on a Nebraska farm. Student Elisabeth Loeske says that “I feel like I basically live in a science laboratory, whether it is the crops that are grown in the field, the nutrition that dad has to figure on his cattle to figure out how they’re going to gain best, or helping my parents in the vet clinic.”

As it turns out, a childhood background on a farm can be great preparation for a variety of STEM-related fields, including electronics.

Recently, the World-Herald featured Aaron Cass, founder of Acass Systems. The Omaha-based company focuses on revolutionizing live music productions, systems, and infrastructures by designing staging components to custom specifications for artists. For example, if you were at Fleetwood Mac’s tour in Lincoln on January 17th, Acass Systems was the company that designed the riser for Mick Fleetwood’s drum kit, as well as the support structure on which the stage-width LED display was mounted. In other words? The Nebraska engineering, design, and manufacturing start-up has stumbled upon an electronics niche with plenty of problems to be solved, and plenty of products in demand.

Cass told the World-Herald that operating his company out of Omaha means he’s close to his home of Missouri Valley, Iowa. As a home-schooled kid on the family farm, he says that his proclivity to mechanics soon became evident: Cass remembers clearing out a chicken coop to convert it into a woodworking shop. “My parents didn’t know anything was up until I disappeared (into the shop) for two weeks. My dad was not happy about it.”

As a teenager, Cass taught himself mechanical drafting from a college-level textbook, then worked on presses for a printing company (hydraulic skills: check) and entered the construction industry as a steelworker. With a background in a wide variety of skill labors and hard work, Cass was then prepared to own and operate his own company. That long-ago detour into electronics has now resulted in a team of six designers, fabricators, and welders that will eventually turn into nine full-time employees for Acass Systems.

It’s an inspiring success story (and as the company grows, one that will become continually more well-known) and a familiar pattern for many students who might not fall in love with the restrictions of purely academic work, but enjoy learning STEM skills in hands-on, tangible ways. Different skill-sets and real-world practice are valid, recognizable ways to learn, and with a varied background in many areas, students and workers can prepare for the moment when they find that niche: that detour in the road to produce something that the world has an actual need for. From agriculture to construction to electronics, STEM is the common thread that binds them all together, and an aptitude for any of those skills can translate into an exciting new career opportunity.

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