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Student starts business during freshman year PDF  | Print |
Thursday, 11 April 2013 18:13

Electrical engineering freshman Josh Birdwell says he's just giving back in the best way he knows how in an effort to help others prepare for college.  The Oklahoma City native is doing big things as a young adult in only his first year of college. At the age of 19, Birdwell has started his own company, by revamping existing technologies and inspiring countless students to partake in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

Birdwell always had a great interest in computer science, robotics and engineering. His high school however, didn’t have the resources to fuel Birdwell’s interests in engineering.

“In my sophomore year I attended a career fair for high school students and there I was exposed to Francis Tuttle Technology program,” said Birdwell. “At first I didn’t think the program was for me but then I noticed a booth that was displaying a class-made robot. That instantly caught my attention and I had to learn more about this robot.”

The CareerTech center provided all the things Birdwell’s school had been without; pre-engineering courses and engineering extra-curricular activities, multiple computer labs and all the course material to prepare Birdwell for a college-level engineering program.

Francis Tuttle was the place that opened Birdwell’s eyes to Project Lead the Way. 

“I really wasn’t familiar with PLTW before I started at Francis Tuttle but I learned more about it because several of my teachers were involved. I realized that I could really prepare myself for college through these courses,” said Birdwell. 

Project Lead the Way is the nation’s leading provider of rigorous and innovative STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education curricular programs used in schools.

 PLTW was launched in 1997 in 12 high schools in NY to address the shortage of engineering students at the college level and to inspire students to study science, technology, engineering and math. According to Dr. Vince Bertram, President and CEO of PLTW, students in PLTW programs create, design, build, discover, collaborate and solve problems while applying core concepts from math and other academic areas. 

Starting in the fall of his high school junior year, Birdwell started attending Francis Tuttle for half of his school day to further his engineering education. In his senior year, Birdwell began work on a project that would attract the attention of professional engineers and CEO’s of major companies.

“Working in the Kohl’s shoe department, we often had issues correctly finding inventory and keeping track of shoes we had in stock and those we didn’t. I thought to myself, this is 2012, we should have an effective inventory system that will assist us in helping customers and staying organized.”

Birdwell’s father suggested RFID technology. Radio frequency identification is the wireless non-contact use of radio frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data for the purposes of identifying and tracking tags attached to objects. 

After the completion of the RFID project, Birdwell and his classmates were scheduling meetings with real engineers working for large corporations and research facilities. 

“These engineers would ask us, ‘So what sort of graduate program are you all working in.’ And we would have to explain that we were just high school students. This is a great example of what PLTW programs can do for students.” 

Birdwell attended the Oklahoma FIRST Robotics Regional Competition in Oklahoma City. It was here where he shared his project with a number of influential Oklahomans including OSU President Burns Hargis. Hargis serves as a supporter of these robotics regional competitions.

Serving as a judge for the Engineering Design Showcase this summer, Birdwell will serve as a model for high school students to see how organizations like Project Lead the Way can prepare students in the right ways for college and to inspire them to create outstanding projects.

Birdwell recently started his own business with a friend from high school called RFID Edge, where Birdwell and his partner provide consulting services for businesses looking to use the technologies he used in his Francis Tuttle project.

“Although we aren’t turning a profit, this business provides a ton of exposure and opportunity for us to be seen and heard by professionals.”

Birdwell is also involved in several organizations on campus including serving as a student intern in the Riata Center, CEAT Representative Council, the Freshmen Research Program and Students for Education Reform.

By Debra Schlegel