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Apprentices gain real-world experience

Hands-on learning supplements classroom theory

From 2010-2013, Lawrence Garwin attended Stanford University and earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. The experience exposed him to data sheets, components and theory but didn't provide hands-on practice. That he got from Palo Alto's Repair Café.

Garwin was inspired to start the Apprentice Program, which offers students, graduates and those with an interest in learning a chance to work alongside experienced fixers.

"I saw fellow students who had very little hands-on experience," Garwin said. "These are the same people that are likely going to be designing our next products."

The first apprentices attended the Palo Alto Repair Café event in March 2014. Since then, more than 117 apprentices have worked and learned alongside a fixer at either a Palo Alto, Mountain View or Sunnyvale Repair CRepair Café event.

One of the many apprentices is Clara Druzgalski, who is getting her doctorate in mechanical engineering from Stanford. She volunteered at the Aug. 30 event in Palo Alto alongside Tre Retter of San Jose. Together, they reverse engineered a broken toaster oven and returned it in working order to its owner.

"It also feels good to volunteer and help out the wider community using my skills that I have spent a long time cultivating," Druzgalski said.

The biggest lesson she learned while apprenticing was that repairs are often straightforward, yet people often shy away from attempting to fix them. Since apprenticing, she has been inspired to fix her own smartphone and to help some friends laser cut wood to rebuild a model airplane.

"I spend a lot of time solving theoretical problems," Druzgalski said. "It's really inspiring to put my skills into practice and solve real, hands-on problems, too."

Alice Eamsherangkoon, who graduated from Stanford in 2013 with engineering and product-design degrees, volunteered for the second time at the August event. She said she appreciates when fixers talk through the diagnosis out loud. The experience has made her consider how a product works, its aesthetics and the ease of future repair.

That's exactly what Mountain View Repair Café's founder Maia Coladonato hopes apprentices take away from the event.

"Having young people, who will probably soon be designing products, thinking, 'Why is this designed this way?' is great," she said.

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Related content:

Mixes of fixes: Repair Café volunteers mend them all

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