AST2-A Holistic Approach with an Emphasis on 21st Century Skills of Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking


Applied Systems and Technology Transfer (AST2) is a company with focus on education and outreach to students and educators. Earlier this year, AST2 released their new INVENT3D printer. The INVENT3D printer is designed to be used with INVENTORcloud™ Program, a STEM education program for students K-12, as well as post-secondary schools.

We caught up with Julie Michael Smith, executive vice president of AST2 and executive director of Advanced Methods in Innovation (AMI) to learn about the INVENTORcloud Program, core beliefs and future plans in an exclusive AMazing® Q&A session.


AMazing®: Julie, thank you for your participation. Tell us about INVENTORcloud and how the INVENTORcloud™ Program serves AST2’s educational and outreach efforts?

Julie: INVENTORcloud is a K-12 educational program that brings together the STEM disciplines with 21st century skills, and provides opportunities for students to apply this knowledge to real world problems using the design process, solid modeling and 3D printing.

AST2 developed the INVENTORcloud Program with support from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) of the US DOD, as it was undertaking an initiative to fundamentally transform how it designs, prototypes and manufactures military implements.

Students using STORM technology (Photo courtesy of AST2)

Students using STORM technology (Photo courtesy of AST2)

Key to that effort was recognizing that the future workforce had to have a different set of skills and attitude towards manufacturing including skills of collaboration, resource-sharing across boundaries and use of rapid prototyping and social media tools. And a new attitude towards manufacturing where a strong mind is valued over a strong back, and that manufacturing can offer skilled, well-paying jobs in clean, technology-rich environments.

AST2 beta-tested its INVENTORcloud Program in several Ohio high schools in 2012-13 by offering a semester course called ‘Innovation, Creativity and Design Thinking’, which integrated standards-aligned content with real world projects that used 3D printing.

INVENTORcloud also integrated its STORM technology which allows for two way communication between the INVENTORcloud Lab and the classroom, bringing resources into the classroom. Lab staff can provide CAD instruction, review designs in real-time and provide virtual tour of the Lab’s additive manufacturing (AM) and rapid prototyping (RP) equipment. Students can even take over control of equipment – say, operating a laser cutter from their desk.

AMazing®: An essential aspect of INVENTORcloud is hands-on use of 3D printers in the classroom as an educational tool. In view of the company’s experience with 3D Printing, what has proved essential toward creating an engaging, learning environment?

Julie: INVENTORcloud believes that creating a learning environment that is dynamic, robust with technology and relevant to their lives is imperative. INVENTORcloud’s courses provide rich content and skills that students then apply in activities and projects. The approach is holistic with an emphasis on 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. The 3D printer is learning tool – besides allowing students to be “makers” and designers – it offers an opportunity for students to learn and demonstrate other critical, life-long skills.

AMazing®: Is it important to introduce a program like INVENTORcloud Discovery Learning Program at the elementary level?

Julie: Based on the success of the INVENTORcloud Program beta, we decided to expand two-fold. First, to create additional INVENTORcloud classes for high school in environmental sustainability and 21st century entrepreneurship, and second to develop programs for primary and middle schools.

We all read about the US’s woeful performance in global PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores and difficulty in attracting students to STEM disciplines. According to the National Center for STEM Elementary Education, research documents that by the time students reach fourth grade, a third of boys and girls have lost an interest in science. By eighth grade, almost 50 percent have lost interest or deemed it irrelevant to their education or future plans. Once they are disengaged from STEM, it is almost impossible to bring them back. So, the question is how to keep them interested?

INVENTORcloud’s K-8 courses and modules explore STEM – what is it? What are the careers? What skills are needed? Do students know that toy designers and sports trainers are STEM jobs? And allowing them to be creative – to problem solve and to design. We all start life curious, exploring and wondering and then, many of us lose those traits. STEM can be fun! In the two years since INVENTORcloud developed K-8 programming, demand and interest has been outstanding. Students love 3D printing, designing and the dynamic content.  Teachers appreciate the added emphasis on reading, writing and oral communication.

AMazing®: We hear about co-creation and collaboration in industry between makers, engineers, designers; as well as companies, institutions of higher learning and local businesses as a new business model. How will hands-on experience with the INVENT3D printer in use with INVENTORcloud help prepare students to thrive in this new business model?

Julie: INVENTORcloud’s beginnings were just on those issues – co-creation, collaboration and working across boundaries. The INVENT3D printer is a tool, a learning platform for students to learn those skills. Students work together in teams, problem-solve, brainstorm, research, design and create. Students have different abilities, interests – they learn, as we all do in life and careers – that respecting differences and skills, working together towards a common goal is important. Also important to note is that earlier this year, MBO Partners did a study for Career Advisory Board which projects by 2020, approximately 50% of the workforce will be independent contractors which requires a different set of skills versus the traditional employer-employee environment.

AMazing®: Where is the INVENTORcloud™ Program currently available? Are there plans to expand availability?

Julie: In 2014-15, INVENTORcloud expanded from Ohio to two additional states, Pennsylvania and Texas. And in Texas, INVENTORcloud is being piloted at two KIPP Charter high schools in Houston. Last year, INVENTORcloud was offered in about 15 schools; this year, we are pleased to be in approximately 55 schools. In southeast Ohio, a county educational consortium received a grant of almost $1 million from the Ohio Department of Education to implement the INVENTORcloud Program in grades K-12 and also, build its own INVENTORcloud Lab that we will assist in operating. We are very interested in expanding INVENTORcloud Program.

As a small, young company, we seek to build partnerships with educational organizations and districts to assist in this growth. For example, INVENTORcloud works closely with America Makes, the national laboratory for additive manufacturing which is also located in Youngstown, and universities such as Texas A&M where we piloted a summer camp this year and Miami University of Ohio, which provided the framework for INVENTORcloud’s first course.

AMazing®: With regard to the INVENT3D printer, what sets this printer apart from other printers on the market?

AST2 Printer  (Photo courtesy of AST2)

INVENT3D Printer  (Photo courtesy of AST2)

Julie: Reliability is integral to the success and usability of 3D printers in education. How many times have we heard that a school got a 3D printer and shortly thereafter, it is gathering dust in a corner because no one can trouble shoot it and there is no technical support? By and large, educators’ ability to operate and maintain 3D printers is limited. Once they encounter a problem, they get frustrated and quit.  Purposefully, the INVENT3D printer was designed to be easy to use and maintain, with open source components, unimpeded viewing and ease of assembly.

Another key element is professional development and support for teachers.  Bringing 3D printing into the classroom can certainly augment the learning environment but teachers must know how to use the solid modeling/CAD and slicer programs, understand the nuances of using 3D printers.

And, beyond the technical and operational issues, educators’ fears and inhibitions of technology can be a concern. The students are fearless and not intimidated; teachers can be a little more apprehensive. Concern about not being the expert and intimidation by technology are limiters, as well, that sometimes prevents users from preserving and working through technical issues.

INVENTORcloud addresses that issue with its STORM technology which allows the INVENTORcloud Lab staff and classroom to virtually interact. The Lab staff can assist with solid modeling instruction, review of designs and provide oversight in operating the equipment. The remote capability also allows Lab staff to trouble shoot operational issues.

AMazing®: We understand students from Choffin Career & Technical Center and Chaney VPA/STEM High School actually manufactured INVENT3D printers. How did this opportunity develop? How did the experience benefit the students? Do you envision more partnerships like this in the future?

Julie: INVENTORcloud has enjoyed a great partnership with Youngstown City School District since its inception. Two of its high schools participated in the beta and its magnet school for grades 3- 8 with Discovery @ Kirkmere the first to offer the Discovery Learning Program. The district had available space in its career and technical center and it seemed like a perfect fit for the INVENTORcloud Lab. As we developed the INVENT3D printer, the founder of AST2, Jack Scott, who has always had an interest in education and helping students, thought this would be a perfect opportunity to provide students with relevant work experience.

Choffin has an outstanding precision machining program and Chaney, with its emphasis on STEM, uses AM/RP equipment in the classroom. The work program has been a great success. Students not only use their technical skills, they learn work environment norms and life skills, such as respect in the workplace, responsibility and teamwork, financial literacy and time management, balancing school and work.  Students work approximately 6 – 8 months, gaining valuable experience before graduation. Yes, we are exploring establishing similar operations with other school districts.

AMazing®: What advice would you offer K-12 and post-secondary students interested in a technical career involving additive manufacturing technologies?

Julie: Explore the possibilities – they are limitless! Everyday new applications of additive manufacturing are being heralded and announced, in wide-ranging industries, from large corporations to start-ups to home hobbyists. Seek out classes, summer camps and after school activities that involve AM – consider FIRST Robotics and commonly known “maker spaces” which are located nationally, and seemingly opening daily. Contact libraries and museums – both are increasingly offering programming in 3D printing.  Think creatively!

AMazing®: How will the INVENTORcloud Program evolve over the next few years? What do you hope to see?

Julie: Naturally, I hope to see the program continue to develop and thrive, expand to more states and impact students with meaningful, life-long skills and interests. This year, INVENTORcloud has evolved greatly, with the introduction of the INVENT3D printer, offering INVENTORcloud curriculum on Moodle, an open source LMS, and expanding our school enrollment.

As a non-profit, AMI hopes to win foundation and grant support so that more schools can offer the INVENTORcloud Program. Too often, financial challenges prevent schools from offering INVENTORcloud yet these are the schools that would most benefit. The INVENT3D printer, STORM technology and curriculum can inculcate an interest in STEM disciplines by those students who are under-represented in STEM, such as females and minorities, as well as bring resources into the classroom that otherwise, a school could not afford.

INVENTORcloud hopes to create a network of INVENTORcloud Program Hubs, a central location, such as school district, community college or career and technical center that can support its region of school districts with an INVENTORcloud Lab that provides technical support, instructional assistance and professional development.

Julie, this concludes our interview. Thank you very much for your participation. We are inspired and appreciative of the opportunity to learn about AST2’s INVENTORcloud Program and INVENT3D printer.


About Julie Michael Smith:
Julie Michael Smith is Executive Vice President of Applied Systems & Technology Transfer (AST2). AST2 develops and implements technologies at the nexus of education and workforce development, advanced manufacturing and technology.  Primarily, AST2 developed the INVENTORcloud Program, STEM education program, designed and now manufactures the INVENT3D Printer and with its STORM technology, creates virtual educational, production and workforce development environments accessing digitally controlled equipment and subject matter resources.

Smith also serves as Executive Director of Advanced Methods in Innovation, a non-profit organization which licenses the INVENTORcloud Program, a K-12, standards-aligned STEM education program that integrates the design process, 21st century skills and 3D printing in a technology-rich, classroom setting.

Previously, Smith served as Chief Development Officer of the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) where she was responsible for marketing and public relations, fundraising, government relations and assisting entrepreneurial business ventures.  Prior to joining YBI, she served as the Governor’s Regional Representative, Ohio Department of Development, facilitating economic and community development projects in northeast Ohio. Smith began her career with Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation as an intern and advanced to loan officer for public sector financing.

She received her Master’s of Business Administration and Bachelor’s of Science, Business Administration, both from Youngstown State University which honored her as Outstanding Recent Alumna by the Williamson College of Business Administration.  She is certified as an Economic Development Finance Professional by the National Development Council.  Smith was also a fellow for Global Green, the U.S. affiliate of Green Cross International which is dedicated to environmental sustainability.

She serves on the boards of Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation and Fireline, Inc. Smith serves on committees for America Makes, Youngstown/Mahoning Valley United Way and STEM+ME2 High School. Previous involvements include the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center, Youngstown Symphony Society, Mahoning Valley Industrial Loan Fund, CASTLO Industrial Park, Mahoning River Corridor of Opportunity, Advanced Methods in Innovations, Strategic Planning Committee of Humility of Mary Health Partners, Eastern Ohio P-16 Council, the Community Corporation, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, Grow Mahoning Valley, Ohio Economic Development Association, Implementation Committee for Mahoning Valley Community College, Business Advisory Committee for Boardman Township, Garden Club Angels, Youngstown Business Incubator and the Workforce Investment Boards of Trumbull County and Mahoning-Columbiana Counties.

Julie Michael Smith
Executive Vice President
Applied Systems & Technology Transfer, LLC

About Applied System & Technology Transfer (AST2)
AST2 is a founding member of America Makes, the first of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation Institutes proposed by the Obama Administration. Based in Youngstown, OH, America Makes has an extensive network companies, non-profit organizations, academic institutions and government agencies collaborating to grow the United States’ capabilities and strength in 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, in materials, applications, technology development and education.

Applied Systems & Technology Transfer (AST2) provides technology solutions and professional services to government and commercial clients, offering experience in government relations, engineering, economic and business development projects.  AST2 develops and implements technologies at the nexus of education and workforce development, advanced manufacturing and cloud computing, leveraging the synergistic opportunities. The Applied Services Group provides professional services to Government and commercial clients. The Technology Transfer Group develops technology for remote equipment operation in various environments and created the INVENTORcloud Program which offers K-16 STEM programming. Visit for more information. The INVENTORcloud Program is available through Advanced Methods in Innovation, a non-profit organization. Visit for more information.

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