Imagine trying to read a book full of three-dimensional letters, each one popping from the page in full relief. Now, imagine your mind is a helicopter, circling each and every character, but struggling to perceive the overall picture.
That was high school for IVC student and dyslexia sufferer Colin Carey. It wasn’t that the blades weren’t whirling fast enough – quite the opposite, in fact. Carey was an outside-the-box thinker who would go on to thrive on creative problem-solving in his construction career.
In essence, when it came to “A” frames, Carey was A-OK. It was the ABCs that were causing the “F”s.
“I’ve always been creative, an inventor type of kid,” he reflects. “But I never had an avenue or knew how to pursue it.”
Frustrated by high school, he dropped out to earn a diploma on his own, and started painting houses with a neighbor. For the next 20 years, he would make his living doing anything and everything in construction, from plumbing to framing and demolition.
Carey loved building things, and would eventually work his way up to a superintendent position at his project management company. His grit and savvy had served him well, but he yearned for something different.
“I wanted to change my life — I didn’t want to do construction anymore,” says Carey, who cites his nine-year-old son as a major motivation for aiming higher. “I’m getting too old to beat myself up every day.”
Still carrying a passion for building things, Carey set out to design his own modular furniture. But despite his two decades in construction, he couldn’t get the measurements to line up. He knew there had to be a way to design with more accuracy, but he had no idea how.
That’s when he stumbled across the Rapid Prototyping program at IVC, and everything clicked into place. Upon signing up for the nine-class certificate, he began learning how to take his ideas from brainstorm to blueprint right away. Soon, he was transforming the ideas in his head into 2D and 3D prototypes, using traditional drawing, CAD and 3D modeling. With access to programs like SolidWorks and Fusion 360, his imagination and confidence soared.
“I hated school, and now, I love it,” says Carey, who first found comfort, then confidence, in IVC’s hands-on coursework. In the same classroom environment that had once been his Kryptonite, Carey was beginning to realize his superpower.
The prototyping prodigy made everything from thermal candy molds to a wicked resin-cast lightsaber. After just two semesters of classes, he plucked up enough courage to apply to the local manufacturer Case Club. For the interview, he took along his process book, full of pictures documenting his Jedi-like prowess with vacuum forming, lost-wax casting and silicone molding.
“It’s like a résumé for our type of people,” explains Carey. In fact, according to a direct quote from his new boss at Case Club: “That’s what got you the job!”
Carey is grateful to his Irvine Valley College professor, Brett McKim, who helped him create the process book as part of his coursework. McKim also served as one of Carey’s job references, though the company was so impressed with the process book that Carey was hired right away, with no further endorsement needed.
“I was a little sad when Colin’s employer never called,” admits McKim, who has spent about half of his 30-year teaching career at IVC. “But they didn’t need to, which is fantastic.
“It was exciting to have him bust out.”
Many of his students, McKim explains, have never had a job interview before. In order to help them get over their “gut-wrenching” nerves, the process book offers talking points to strut their stuff.
“If there’s a passion, students usually find work after a couple of courses,” says McKim, who adds that employers across different sectors continually ask about his Rapid Prototyping students. For Carey, it was the wisdom and connections of faculty like McKim that cleared his pathway to success.
“Brett is such a great teacher,” says the proud IVC alum. “He has a plethora of knowledge, and he’s always willing to be there for us … I really do look up to him.”
Now a product engineer, Carey designs and manufactures custom foam-lined cases, performing size analyses from pictures, engineered plans, or straight from customers’ items. A lot of his work involves high-tech machines like waterjet cutters, and he says he got the hands-on equipment skills he needed at IVC’s incredible IDEA facility.
“That’s like a toy store for me,” says Carey, who learned how to operate and maintain 3D printers, CNC lathes and mills, and vinyl cutters at the state-of-the-art, on-campus lab. From hands-on sculpting to molding, he has not only gained new skill sets, but has seen his vision entirely transformed.
“Just knowing how things are made, it’s like I walk around on a different planet now because I see things that other people can’t,” says Carey. These days, he can’t help but look at simple items like ice chests and hamburger packages with his new “x-ray vision,” deducing how they were made and the intentionality behind the design.
While he’s working, Carey continues to earn his certificate in Design Model Making and Rapid Prototyping, which he aims to finish in a few more semesters. He’s especially looking forward to his next class, which will take products all the way from concept to Kickstarter.
“It’s the full Monty,” says the product engineer, who’s excited to execute his ideas and then license his creations out to companies. Currently, he’s drafting plans for toys as well as construction tools, putting his rich background in the industry to work.
Carey is also looking forward to the post-COVID return of classes, when students are slated to tour production facilities across the region. Past field trips have included Fabtech, Ferrari restoration, Edwards Lifesciences and Mazda. With Los Angeles and Orange County’s booming automotive and biomedical fields, not to mention an established toy industry, opportunities in rapid prototyping are virtually endless. Thus, McKim always encourages students to bring along their class-crafted resumes on such excursions.
“There are few things that can replicate seeing a component being produced and seeing the equipment in operation,” says McKim.
Often, program alumni end up at the companies they visit. Today, IVC grads are succeeding throughout the industry, everything from running the 3D printing faculty at SpaceX to designing vehicle systems for Tesla.
According to the professor, “The overarching concepts of creating something don't change, so students can disappear into all those environments.”
Aside from facilitating his dream job, Carey’s favorite aspect of the program is the limited cohort of 20 students. The small-class environment fosters a tight-knit atmosphere in which students regularly collaborate via online chat groups, and even post-class hangouts. A typical evening class might end at 10, and wind up at a restaurant until midnight, with the proto-geeks winding down, hanging out, and swapping ideas.
“They are my nerds,” beams McKim, always happy to support students on the way to fulfilling, creative careers.
For Carey, the combination of in-demand skills and high-touch instructional support have made all the difference.
“It got me the first step to where I want to be,” says the intrepid engineer, who looks forward to finishing school, moving up the career ladder, and launching his product lines. He only wishes that this kind of program had existed when he was younger.
“I always thought of myself as a kind of mad scientist as a kid — that was the guy I wanted to be,” shares Carey. “And it took my whole life to finally go out and do it.”