Kansas City, May 28, 2020: Tyrell Woodard is a magician.
With a blowtorch and his brain, Tyrell can craft innovative objects that combine every element of STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art and math. He can build cars that require no fossil fuels.
As a student at Central High School, he realized early on that he wasn’t satisfied to become just an engineer or craftsman or artist. He wanted to do all those jobs and more. Now a member of the CHS Class of 2020, Tyrell is ready to build that reality.
“My biggest endgame is to become a tech inventor,” he said. “I want to use my skills to create my own dreams.”
Tyrell’s benefited from the skills he’s gained from the educators and mentors at CHS, Manual Career and Technical Center, and the MINDDRIVE organization. But before all that, his path towards a STEAM-related career started with his dad, Robert.
Born and raised in Kansas City, Tyrell watched how his father used his intelligence and experience as a carpenter, plumber, mechanic and even chef to help their family members, friends and neighbors. Robert was the person to turn to when you needed help. He could fix anything, according to Tyrell, and he would help anyone.
“My dad is one of my biggest inspirations. He’s one of the people you go to if you need anything done, if you need your car fixed, your home fixed,” Tyrell said. ‘I’ve seen the feeling that people get when my dad helps them. I want to give people those same feelings.”
In addition to a growing desire to help others with his skills, Tyrell’s interest in designing and building things started to take shape around drawing and the Japanese art of origami. As a self-described “quiet” child, he spent hours with his sketchpad and his imagination.
“I always had a lot of ideas in my brain. I used to do origami and would draw a lot,” he said. “I always used to draw what was on my mind. It could be the weirdest thing and I could still draw it out.”
The blueprint for Tyrell’s life grew suddenly in his freshman year at Central HS. Principal Anthony Madry had made it a priority to get more of his students involved in STEAM classes and activities. Manual Career Tech crafted a partnership with MINDDRIVE, and CHS invited the organization to do a recruitment presentation for its students.
MINDDRIVE is a non-profit focused on providing high school students in the Kansas City region with hands-on educational experiences in innovation, technology and communication. Volunteer mentors teach the young participants hard skills like welding and soft skills like problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration. Since its founding in 2010, MINDDRIVE projects have centered around designing and building electric race cars.
Tyrell was hooked by the combination of experiential learning, mentoring with industry experts and the opportunity to join a racing team. This partnership between Kansas City Public Schools and MINDDRIVE shifted his education into high gear.
“Academics just weren’t enough for me. MINDDRIVE came to the school and I immediately jumped,” Tyrell said. “Once I got in, I knew that this was for me. I saw that it was all hands-on learning experiences. MINDDRIVE is a place of innovation.”
Tyrell became a member of the “Black Jackets,” a group of students who gathered weekly at MINDDRIVE’s midtown studio to design, craft, test, race and improve their own battery-powered vehicle. Over the course of about three years, they built the “717” model and turned it into a car that wins races and admirers at events like the annual Kansas City Auto Show.
“I was the only student who stayed on that car for three years,” he said. “That car is one of my lifesavers. We had to fight for it.”
Tyrell gets the most out of working with his crew, which he now leads. He believes his leadership abilities have grown more than any other skillset thanks to his involvement with MINDDRIVE.
“When you have a place for students to throw their ideas together, you will get a lot of crazy ideas. That’s seven imaginations working on one project. There’s no experience that comes close to that,” he said. “It’s making a student’s dreams come true. It’s like pulling your dreams out of your mind and making them a reality.”
Tyrell’s creativity was further fueled when he started taking digital media and marketing classes taught by Kyle Smith at Manual Career Tech. He developed a new and intense passion for photography and videography.
“Our teacher, Mr. Smith, I personally think he’s one of the best. He realizes that students need to be treated as individuals,” Tyrell said. “Every student has their own unique passion and dreams. I didn’t realize that I liked to take photos until he put a camera in my hands.”
According to Mr. Smith, Tyrell was a natural at photography and quickly developed an expertise that surpassed the prepared curriculum. Smith just let him run. Tyrell would figure something out and start teaching the other students.
“Tyrell doesn’t need a teacher as much as he needs the resources,” Smith said. “I handed him a camera and soon he was teaching me. I put him in front of a computer and he made the screen dance with imagery. I gave him an assignment and he would make it 10-times more elaborate.”
Tyrell enjoys the process of collaboration and co-learning with other students. He appreciates the way both Manual Career Tech and MINDDRIVE empower students to drive their own educational experiences.
“I believe in student-to-student help,” he said. “It’s nice to have teachers and mentors, but if you have a student the same age next to you teaching you something, that’s the best way to learn.”
Tyrell Woodard will continue to learn and design and build. He’s excited to start his “certification journey” this fall in the two-year welding program at Metropolitan Community College. That’s just one more step towards achieving his dream.
“When I get my certifications, I don’t want to be just working for someone else,” he said. “I want to be able to have my ideas, jot them down, and build them.”