Igniting Imagination and Inspiring the Next Generation in STEM

Brandon Cramer


For me, being part of Autodesk Research has always meant that I get to work and talk about unimaginable ideas that most people don’t come across in their regular day-to-day. Our projects look beyond where our Autodesk products and services are currently focusing. We seek to solve problems that don’t exist yet to de-risk the company as industries and disciplines evolve. Working on cutting-edge, future-focused research means there’s not always going to be a direct application. In most cases this is true. But over the years, I’ve found an outlet that’s given me a platform to use and share Autodesk Research stories to make immediate impact in a way that’s rewarding and gives me constant joy.

Who better to speak to about wild unimaginable ideas than kids. Youth outreach is that space where Autodesk Research stories can take on a life of their own without much effort, time, or investment. It takes a lot for a company to adopt new strategies learned from research. It only takes an image to expose a young kid to unheard of career paths and disciplines and hook them on pursuing STEM opportunities.

One of the more creative ways to tell stories happened in the latest youth engagement I was honored to be a part of called Make it Bridge, a student design challenge. In this contest your challenge is to rethink a gap that exists in your community by designing a new structure or space that includes a pedestrian bridge to offer something more for the people and places it connects.

What I like most about this challenge is how the DAR Bridge, an Autodesk Research Project, isn’t the focus. The compelling part of the competition is challenging those in the contest to think how their own personal and local communities would incorporate this research artifact. The youths engaging aren’t asked to go beyond what they know, and our research meets them where they’re at while also exposing them to something they’ve never seen before. Led by one of Autodesk’s Youth program specialists, Kellyanne Mahoney, this competition is offered to students between the ages of 13-21 in the United States or Canada with two grand prize awards of $10,000 and several other additional prizes.

Brandon on the DAR Bridge at AU 2023 in New Orleans

But not all youth outreach opportunities need to have the same scale and scope as the Make it Bridge Student Design Challenge. Our leadership in Research recognizes this, which is apparent in their continued partnership with DreamWakers. DreamWakers partners with 4th to 12th grade classrooms at rural and systemically under-resourced schools and educational programming nationwide to provide virtual connection with role models from diverse backgrounds, identities, and perspectives beyond their city limits. DreamWakers brings classroom lessons to life, inspiring the next generation of leaders to envision and prepare for their own future.

I’ve been lucky enough to receive several invitations to be a DreamSpeaker over the past three years. I’m always nervous, but I look forward to it every time! I kick off every session the same way, a brief look at my journey to Autodesk, followed by exciting photos of the latest Autodesk Research projects. Who would have thought our far-out focused research projects could be so impactful to so many so soon.

Brandon Cramer is a Research Manager on the Manufacturing Industry Futures team at Autodesk.

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