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Mark Schmit

Quality Insider

Making the Kids Connection

The tale of Kylan and the magic longboard

Published: Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 13:13

This is a story about U.S. manufacturing, honoring heroes past and present, and teaching children in ways that textbooks and rote regurgitation cannot. This is a story about why I am optimistic about the future.

This is also a story about Kylan. He’s 8. Before I tell his story, though, I need to give you some background.

In Westminster, Colorado, a third grade class at Adams 12 STEM Launch School regularly invites a manufacturing CEO to come into the classroom to talk about, of all things, manufacturing. It’s done in conjunction with a program called Kids Connection, which was designed to form a bridge between kids and technology by bringing industry leaders and hands-on learning into the classroom. Although the program is less than a year old, manufacturers are already queuing up for the chance to enthuse young minds and inspire the future. 

Here’s a video that shows the concept in action. In it, STEM students are enjoying the opportunity to learn about aerodynamics and flight from a Falcon UAV:

And, through SparkFun Electronics, an online retailer and microcontroller development board manufacturer, students have seen how to make the bits and pieces that make electronics projects possible:


Kids Connection is now a formal program of the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology (CAMT), which is the Colorado Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) center. According to Adams 12 STEM coordinator Michelle Priola, the program is helping students see the world in a new way. Kids Connection is working. Kids Connection has a logo. Kids Connection has a brand. It also has a beginning, and that beginning is where Kylan’s story enters our narrative.

Back before Kids Connection existed, Kylan wanted to build a present for his grandfather. He wanted to make something wholly unique for his Papa Mike, an AARP-card carrying Army veteran who served with the 589th Engineer Battalion / Mountain Movers in Vietnam. Naturally, that present was a longboard skateboard with Papa Mike’s military unit’s insignia in the design.

However, what Kylan possessed in enthusiasm, he lacked in money (and haven’t we all been there). He needed cash—thee hundred dollars, to be exact. (That is a common problem for entrepreneurs.) Oh, and he had neither design nor manufacturing experience. He solved the first problem by collecting scrap metal and selling it, as well as by doing odd jobs and helping others in the community, saving all the profits in the Great Bank-of-Mom. He solved the second problem by partnering with Denver-based KOTA Longboards (KOTA) to design and build the perfect present for Papa Mike.

The owners and employees at KOTA include Army, Navy and USAF tactical aviation veterans among their ranks, as well as graduates of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN). They are veterans of tours in Iraq and Somalia. They are entrepreneurs. They like to go fast. (I’m struggling to resist putting in a cheap “need for speed” reference here.)

The KOTA name and those of all their decks are inspired by the heritage of the “historic military aircraft flown by the intrepid Knights of the Air. The Knights of the Air pushed the limits of their crafts’ performance while maintaining honor and respect. At KOTA we’re inspired to do the same.”

Working alongside the graphic designers at KOTA, Kylan learned about print layouts, typography, and the computer programs that enable such things. After weeks at the drafting table, the design was finished. As you can see in figure 1, the design includes pictures of Mike, the Mountain Movers logo, and an homage to the American flag. The Mike Commemorative Board was taking shape.

Figure 1:  Drawing of Papa Mike’s commemorative longboard

Now, with drawing in hand, Kylan’s board was ready to be made, a custom production run of one. The wood needed to be cut, formed, and finished. In keeping with their buy-American theme, all of KOTA’s board decks are handcrafted out of hard rock maple from Wisconsin.

The owners at KOTA were so generous with their time and sharing their story that naturally they were asked to talk to other aspiring creators at Kylan’s school. With the help of Kylan’s mom, a top-notch MEPer, a date was set to have KOTA and Kylan address the classroom about his experiences in raising capital, learning graphic design, and manufacturing.

The day was a hit. Not only was the seed for Kids Connection planted, it also germinated, and Kylan is the Johnny Appleseed. Kids Connection is now a regular program for the school, MEP, and area manufacturers. It’s sensational! But not nearly as sensational as a grandfather who longboards.


About The Author

Mark Schmit’s picture

Mark Schmit

Mark Schmit has served multiple roles while with the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). Schmit is currently MEP’s National Accounts Manager. In this role he is responsible for developing partnerships with both the public and private sector entities. He identifies new business opportunities that leverage state & federal funding with the goal to improve the competitiveness of US- based manufacturers. His major area of focus supply chain optimization.