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Programs for Success: VW eLabs & STEM Fellows positive impact on local family

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

For some students, finding their niche in school isn't always easy. Fortunately, for Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences senior Lucas Tomlinson, the Volkswagen eLab provided him a creative outlet that helped inspire his interests in school and in the projects he's created.

At PEF, we love to see when our programs coincide with one another and the positive impact they have in our teacher’s and student’s lives – and in this case, family’s lives. Salli Tomlinson, Lucas’s mother and past PEF STEM Fellow from Rivermont Elementary, spoke highly of the VW eLab's effect on her son’s learning. “It’s the hands-on part that got him motivated in a different way other than textbooks,” shared Salli. “He had the ability to explore his school interests and be creative.” In 2017, CSAS opened their VW eLab, and students were able to conduct an independent study in the early stages. This is what sparked Lucas's interests in the class. Salli also shared how the work Lucas was engaging in positively affected their family dynamic. “He came home every day and had something positive to say about the class,” said Salli. “It helped start more conversations between my husband and Lucas, as well.”

Lucas pictured with the piece he constructed, on display at WanderLinger Brewery

Lucas has been able to work on an array of different projects, some of which, he created for teachers. For one project in particular, Lucas collaborated with his former CSAS baseball coach, Rick Herman. The content is based on a poem that a friend of Herman’s wrote. Herman approached Lucas about the project, and the two brainstormed different ideas, with Lucas crafting different designs and size layouts for laser engraving. Lucas created the design with the VW eLab technology and engraved it onto wood. He was also able to facilitate and supervise the project. “The projects he worked on in the VW eLab got him excited about school,” shared Salli. “It was the niche that he needed.” The poem piece he worked on is now displayed at WanderLinger Brewery in downtown Chattanooga. “These are great life skills for him to learn,” said Salli. “He thinks he’ll want to do these types of projects after school on his own.”

Lucas's piece inspired by artist, Whitfield Lovell, on display at CSAS art show

Lucas's sister, Kali Tomlinson, also shared her thoughts on how the VW eLab helped shape her brother’s interest in school. Before the VW eLab came to CSAS, Kali shared, he was unsure of what he liked and what he wanted to do. “I feel like the VW eLab provided an outlet for him with different opportunities to get him excited about school," said Kali. "It was cool to see him come home and say, ‘We did this today!’ or ‘I built this!’. I think it put more ownership back on him of what he created, and that was really cool.”

Kali is currently a STEM Fellow in this year's cohort, after hearing about the program and positive experience from her mother Salli. “I’m from Whitfield County, and most STEM Fellows are from Hamilton County," shared Kali, "so it has helped me broaden my teacher network and be able to see what other districts are doing differently." Kali's job as science enrichment teacher is relatively new in Whitfield County, and she believes it's been beneficial to collaborate with teachers who are teaching similar subjects that might not be new material for them. “When you’re new to a position in your district, it’s really easy to feel siloed," said Kali, "STEM Fellows has really helped me feel like there are other teachers out there – they may not be right beside you down the hall – but it’s still somebody you can reach out and contact." Kali also described the role instructional development has played in her STEM Fellows experience, sharing, "I’ve never received PBL training like I did with STEM Fellows. It was phenomenal! It really opened my eyes to the fact that there’s so much going on in the community, that I had no idea about, that my students need to know.

Lucas with VW eLab classmates working on their art projects this semester

The integral role both STEM Fellows and the VW eLabs have played in the Tomlinson's career and life has been a great experience to witness. Kristin Burrus, CSAS VW eLab Specialist and former STEM Fellow, has played an essential role in the positive impact the VW eLab has had on her students. "Mrs. Burrus is an amazing teacher,” shared Salli. “She has been a big motivator and really relates to the kids.” Lucas’s VW eLab class had the chance to meet entrepreneurs and hear how they started their businesses – a networking opportunity that Burrus helped organize. This collaboration was a beneficial way for students to make connections with local entrepreneurs and startups, as well as learn first-hand knowledge about marketing and business. Lamp Post Group, Bellhops, Coyote Logistics, Southtree, and The Dwell Hotel all participated in the partnership with the students. “It taught us that if we want to be entrepreneurs, we have to think about how things will work together,” shared Lucas. At the end of the collaboration, students had the opportunity to learn how to make a slide deck to pitch to a company. Lucas also shared about his experience learning and working in the VW eLab. “It’s opened my eyes to everything I can do with all these tools I’ve never used before," said Lucas. “I also feel that what I’m learning in the class will help me once I get older and have a house because I'll know how to solve problems with all these different tools.”

Lucas will start college at Tennessee Tech next year and plans to major in civil engineering. He has to have at least 100 volunteer hours before graduation and has already far surpassed his goal with 280 hours. In addition to volunteering at the Chattanooga Fab Institute last year, he volunteers with the Rivermont Elementary kindergarten class and has also volunteered the past three summers at Cumberland Summer Camp.

Lucas believes the skills he’s acquired in the VW eLab have taught him how to successfully work together in a team to solve real problems. In the future, Salli hopes there is potential for a VW eLab connection with elementary schools as well. She shared that Lucas is great with the kids and believes he would make an excellent teacher. For Lucas, he still plans to take the civil engineering route – a route that the VW eLabs helped form.

For more of Lucas's creations, check out the gallery below!


Additional project descriptions:

*Spelling bee trophies: These were part of Lucas's independent study in the VW eLab. He made two sets of bee trophies and created individual trophies for the winners.

*Bench: Lucas constructed a bench for the CSAS high school library. The bench was also part of his independent study this past semester and was what he created to graduate from the VW eLab. He incorporated outlets so students could charge their electronics, and the project took him around two months to complete.

*Numbered signs: Lucas helped build these blue signs on and around the doors outside of CSAS with his classmates. For safety reasons, all major doors have these numbers on them now.

*Clock: Lucas designed this at last year's Chattanooga Fab Institute, where he also helped teachers create designs for their clocks. Lucas shared, "We assisted teachers and showed them how to use the tools since we already knew how."

*Charcoal & Wood: When the art curriculum in Eric Keller's class collaborated with the VW eLab classroom, students had the opportunity to choose inspiration from one of three artists. For the Whitfield Lovell inspiration, students could create their drawing onto wood material, using charcoal and blending.

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