Nick Johnson envies the freshman class at Cherokee Trail High School.
The engineering students set to graduate in 2019 started their high school careers with a distinct technological advantage. This year, the school's fabrication lab ("fab lab" for short) became an official member in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's International Fab Lab Network. That honor came thanks to the lab's updated menu of high-tech tools, resources that include a laser engraver, a vinyl cutter and a 3-D printer.
"I really would have liked to have that," said Johnson, now a senior. "We did have our laser and we had a couple of other machines."
Johnson didn't have all of those gadgets at his disposal when he started taking engineering classes at Cherokee Trail four years ago. Even so, Johnson found a way to excel. In November, he became one of fewer than 15 high school students across the world to pass the Certified SolidWorks Expert exam. The test covers the most intricate and demanding details of SolidWorks, a brand of computer-aided design software that's a standard tool for professional engineers.
He may not have had access to the same fab lab as the school's current freshmen, but Johnson built a cutting-edge expertise in the field of engineering during his four years at the school. He's mastered complicated concepts and cutting-edge technology; he's designed dozens of high-level projects. Johnson's recent performance on the Certified SolidWorks Expert exam is proof of his ability.
Johnson is still finalizing plans for college, but the test results have already given him an eventual edge in the professional engineering field.
"In the job market today, this helps because it sets me apart. It's a valuable asset for me," Johnson said. "Normally, the company pays its employees to take the test to get better. But I'm already better, and they'll value me a lot more."
The CSWE exam wasn't the first SolidWorks exam Johnson tackled. He already passed the first two levels of certification, achievements that any would-be engineer would happily place on a job application. After successfully designing different projects that ranged from a coffee mug to a six-cylinder radial engine, Johnson wanted to test his skill level even more.
"It was the highest level I could obtain, and I thought it would be pretty hard to get there. It was," Johnson admitted. "But I just saw what I needed to do. I got several resources to help me study for it. I decided I needed to stop procrastinating and I told myself I was going to do fine."
His preparation paid off. Johnson is the second Cherokee Trail student to pass the high-level exam; he's in an elite global class who can add that achievement to their high-school transcript.
It's a feat Johnson attributes directly to the education he received at Cherokee Trail High School. Working closely with engineering/technology teachers Ben Nuebel and Paul Clinton, Johnson has made use of the school's cutting-edge resources. The current iteration of the fab lab wasn't in place when Johnson started as a freshman, but that didn't stop him from using every tool at his disposal.
"At some schools, they only teach you about computer-assisted design, but you never actually get to make the stuff you design. That can be kind of boring," Johnson said. "Here, we've had the tools to make these things that we design. That gives us the hands-on approach to engineering.
"You're seeing what you can change, seeing what you can make better," he added.
Johnson is committed to bringing those lessons to bear in the next phase of his education. He plans on attending the Colorado School of Mines, and looks forward to finding a career in the engineering field as soon as possible.
"I want to change the world a little bit," he said.
Thanks to his impressive performance on the CSWE, Johnson is better prepared to realize his goals before he registers for his first college class.