People ProfilesMarch 6, 2024

Meet the middle school teacher shaping the next generation of engineers

Amy Hamilton is using SOLIDWORKS and the 3DEXPERIENCE platrorm to train and motivate a new wave of engineering students.
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At a glance, Amy Hamilton’s classroom at Sleepy Hill Middle School in Lakeland, Florida, may not appear much different from what you’d find in any other school. But upon closer look, you’ll see her students aren’t just listening to a lesson about engineering or another facet of the STEM world—Hamilton’s students are actively and eagerly engaging with advanced tools and platforms like SOLIDWORKS, and more recently, the 3DEXPERIENCE platform from Dassault Systèmes.

Another look around the room will draw your eyes straight to what Hamilton refers to as her “Wall of Fame.” So, what does it take to get your name on the wall? 

Well, her students who successfully complete their CSWA exams – a certification that serves as proof of mastery over SOLIDWORKS – all get a place on the wall. SOLIDWORKS is a powerful design tool that advances computer-aided design (CAD) with 3D modeling and simulation capabilities. Hamilton’s ”Wall of Fame” started in 2012, and it’s a feat that over 150 of her students have completed. 

As it stands, classes like Hamilton’s are something of a rarity. Her unique blend of experiences and expertise have helped mold Hamilton’s class into something she knows is different than traditional classrooms.

“There are very few of me,” said Hamilton. “And there are no teaching education programs for industrial or technology education in the entire state of Florida.”

Florida teacher Amy Hamilton - Dassault Systemes blog
Florida teacher Amy Hamilton has brought SOLIDWORKS and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform into her middle school classroom.

But the story goes much deeper than a teacher with an appreciation for CAD software. Hamilton’s pathway to teaching was sparked by an unlikely encounter with one STEM topic during her education: drafting. 

From the jump, Hamilton’s experience learning about drafting—creating technical representations of everything from machine parts to structures—would only add fuel to her love of technology and engineering topics, and eventually, would lead to discovering her true calling as a teacher. 

A career forged in the face of adversity 

Hamilton’s love of drafting goes back to the end of her junior year in high school when she found herself in need of one more elective class to add to her schedule. At the time, Hamilton was unconcerned with what class that would ultimately be, so she told the guidance counselor: “Stick me in drafting for all I care.” 

And so, Hamilton found herself in a classroom full of seniors—albeit she was the only woman—to learn about all things drafting. It was an experience that completely altered her life and career path. “I fell in love,” said Hamilton. “We’re talking drafting boards, T-squares, pencil sharpening, pencil lead holders, compasses, the whole thing.”

That love was, in part, sparked by her drafting teacher, Mr. Lester, who saw her potential and encouraged Hamilton to pursue a career in drafting. “I said to Mr. Lester, can I do this for a living?” said Hamilton. To which her teacher said simply, “Yes, and you would be very good at it.” 

But the path forward would not be straightforward, particularly in the 1980’s when women in the drafting field was an uncommon sight. With some strong advocacy from Mr. Lester and another teacher, Hamilton applied to, and later entered her first college program at her local community college, where she shared a classroom with 32 other students, all of whom were men. But that gender gap only motivated Hamilton to work harder and excel in her studies. 

Unfortunately, even after finding her niche in drafting and seeing strong success during her studies, Hamilton struggled to get a foot in the door of the drafting world after graduation. In the mid-1980’s the field was a male-dominated world and opportunities for women were few and far between. 

Hamilton thought back to the time she would spend tutoring other students during her second year of college. “It was those moments with that first-year student,” explained Hamilton. “They get it. I explained it so they understand it.” Each of those instances had an impact. 

Seeing students achieve clarity because of the way she explained a topic, often just as good, or better than, the professors themselves, brought Hamilton to the realization that teaching was a field in which she could excel.  “It was like this addiction,” she said.  

Instantly, Hamilton saw a path where teaching could still allow her to follow her passions. With that knowledge in hand, she applied and got into Rhode Island College in the school’s industrial arts program, studying architectural drafting and minored in graphics. After graduating, she found work teaching at a public school in Massachusetts and doing some substitute teaching. But after some time Hamilton stopped teaching and moved to Florida, where she worked a mix of jobs over the course of eight years. 

But after a visit from her family, and a subsequent question about what’s next, Hamilton decided it was time to get back to what she loved: teaching. She landed a long-term substitute position teaching CAD to students. That experience was a turning point for Hamilton, having, in her own words, never even touched a computer before, she had a lot of learning to do. While a new concept, her years of experience with drafting and design proved enough to help her pick it up and get right to work teaching graphics and AutoCAD. It may not have been exactly the same as drafting, but it was close. 

Once that role ended, Hamilton landed where she still finds herself today—at Sleepy Hill Middle School.  

Bringing SOLIDWORKS and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform into the classroom

In 2009, Hamilton had been toying with various programs to include in her teaching, eventually giving her students lessons with a different CAD software tool. “And then, someone showed me SOLIDWORKS, and it’s been love ever since,” said Hamilton. 

student practicing SOLIDWORKS - Amy Hamilton - Dassault Systemes blog
A student learning SOLIDWORKS in Amy Hamilton classroom at Sleepy Hollow Middle School in Florida.

Eventually, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Hamilton to adapt to the realities of remote work and adopt the 3DEXPERIENCE platform—a business and innovation platform that connects people, ideas, data and solutions in a single collaborative environment—but the same skills, tools, and learnings still crossed over from her time teaching SOLIDWORKS.  

While one might assume that a tool like this would be challenging to learn, especially for middle school students, Hamilton explained that the learning curve is not very steep. For her students, once they get their hands on the program, it’s a quick journey to understanding the various tools, layouts and icons. It’s a very flexible tool for learning and lets Hamilton’s students really branch out and find ways to solve challenges creatively. 

“I think because there are so many ways to solve a problem, and there are so many ways that you can flex the program, that it makes it really easy,” said Hamilton. 

When her sixth and seventh graders come in, they have little to no understanding of the tool. But they all jump straight in and get started, with the help and guidance of Hamilton. They’ll start small creating something like a snowflake in the tool, before gradually becoming more adept in 3DEXPERIENCE over time. And by the time her eighth graders come to her class, they’re ready to be thrown into even more advanced concepts and aspects of the tools. 

And when it comes time to leave Hamilton’s class for the final time, her students enter high school with the confidence and knowledge to apply complex engineering concepts and even make designs that can be 3D printed. Those skills set her students up for a long time, as Hamilton has seen her former pupils go on to excel later in life too. She’s seen students secure full-ride scholarships for engineering at major universities and ultimately find successful careers. 

So, why bring something like CAD software into the curriculum for middle school students? Well, it’s not only an incredibly valuable skill for a student’s future education and career, but it’s also a chance to help them find that spark and passion in the same way that Mr. Lester helped Hamilton find hers. 

It’s a goal that’s already yielded incredible results. One of Hamilton’s students had been given a 3D printer, which they would frequently use to print out various projects, but they weren’t creating anything of their own. 

After being introduced to SOLIDWORKS, the student would bring home files of their creations to print out. It reached a point where their parents even ended up buying SOLIDWORKS for them to continue learning at home. It’s a passion that Hamilton has helped foster, and now that student will carry a love for learning and CAD with them for a long time. 

When asked about other success stories she’s fond of, Hamilton described an impressive story of one student in 2014 who blew her away with his ability. The student successfully completed both sections of the CSWA Academic exam in just 25 minutes. And that same student eventually went on to earn their Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional (CSWP) certification as well, something that Hamilton hadn’t even entirely covered in her class. 

Those are just two examples among countless successes that have emerged from Hamilton’s class. The impact that her teaching has had on students is undeniably powerful. 

Whether it’s with a compass and a mechanical pencil or an advanced piece of software, Hamilton encourages her students to get out there and try. Over the course of her own life, Hamilton has seen her share of roadblocks – particularly when it came to the male-dominated drafting industry. Today, Hamilton tries to instill a fearless attitude in her students to help motivate and empower them to seize on the opportunities that she wasn’t able to access in her own youth. In her class, the number one takeaway for her students is that there is no “I can’t.” 

All of the skills and tools that Hamilton brings to her classes are meant to give every student the confidence to believe they can accomplish whatever they set out to do and solve problems in a really effective way. To this day, there are few things more rewarding for Hamilton than when students come back to thank her for being that supportive and encouraging voice that’s inspired them to go on and pursue their own dreams. 

So, what’s next for Hamilton? Well, she’s still right at home teaching and inspiring every new student that walks through her door. And, at the time of our conversation, Hamilton was in the thick of preparing to take some of her students to a National SkillsUSA event in Georgia. 

As skills gaps loom across industries, Hamilton continues to channel the same inspiration that she got from teachers in her childhood to help mold a new generation of innovators, designers and problem solvers. 

Amy Hamilton isn’t the only one shaping the future of technology and engineering. Check out some of the other humans driving progress.  

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