Combining Formal & Informal Learning To Change the World

Blog Series, EdTech, GenDIY, Startups

Matt Scullin showed up at orientation at Penn and found a table for every engineering major.

“And computer science had 30 kids crowded around the table and one professor. Mechanical engineering was similar. And then the material science table had no students at it, and two professors. So I said I’d better go there, and figure out what’s going on.”

Scullin told NPR that he liked developing new materials, so when he finished up at Penn he headed out to Berkeley for a graduate degree where he got interested in the world of alternative energy.

While working on his masters, Scullin watch a couchsurfing friend start an online gambling business. “Six months later he was still on my couch, and I had been there with him as he hired a team, and found his first investors, and figured out how to get this company started. So I thought well, if he could do it, I could do it, and why not?”

Scullin merged his expertise in materials with his interest in energy and launched Alphabet Energy with the goal of developing thermoelectric devices that trapped waste heat from power plants.

Alphabet makes a small printed circuit card called a PowerCard with imbedded thermoelectrics.  “The cool thing about this PowerCard is that it’s like a cell,” he says. “You can almost think of it like how a solar cell is with the sun. You can put one out in the sun, and get a small amount of power, or you could put a square mile of solar cells out in the sun, and you’ve got a power plant.”

GenDIY lessons. The Generation do-it-yourself (GenDIY) series is about young adults that chart their own course to a career the love. Matt’s path is a remarkable combination of:

  • an accidental degree resulting from taking a road less traveled,
  • osmotic learning from watching a startup in formation, and
  • a recognized passion for environmental impact.

The combination of formal and informal learning combined with recognized passion for impact resulted in a startup. Scullin knows he faced hurdles to get people to try his new technology but,  “I stay excited because I get to geek out about these things that I really love. And at the same time, I get to build something. And, that’s really what I want to be doing. I want to be making something.”

He says that’s more important than making a fortune. Thermoelectrics won’t be a quick buck. Scullin and team are in the for the long haul because they are doing work they care about–work that could make a big difference in energy efficiency.


About “GenDIY”
Young people are taking control of their own pathway to careers, college and contribution. Powered by digital learning, “GenDIY” is combatting unemployment and the rising costs of earning a degree by seeking alternative pathways to find or create jobs they love. Follow their stories here and on Twitter at #GenDIY. For more on GenDIY check out:

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.

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