Meet Richard Williams a.k.a. Corporal Willy I – Where It All Started

We know him as Corporal Willy – Richard Williams, who is an engineer by passion and has dedicated his life to teaching in STEM education.

From creating a bridge with fettuccine pasta and Elmer’s Wood Glue, to building a 9.25 ounces stool out of cardboard that went on to set a new world record that was tested at UNLV’s Labs, Richard makes science fun and exciting for children to pique their interests in engineering, architecture and other technologies. Besides being a SolidWorks instructor at College of Southern Nevada (CSN), when needed Richard writes technology related articles for Engineering.com and for SOLIDWORKS Teacher official blog. He is a writer for and member of the SOLIDWORKS blog squad.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Richard went to schools in Queens, and on Long Island, in Hempstead. After completing high school, he decided to enter the military as a US Marine to fulfill his military obligation in effect at the time. He served in the military for six years, then he was discharged at the rank of Corporal E4 and eligible for Sergeant E5. Besides achieving this rank, he had to have a top secret clearance before heading to his final duty station – Key West, Florida – during the Cuban Crisis era.

Richard, in the year 1961

After being honorably discharged, Richard went to work for the Grumman Aircraft Corporation at Bethpage, Long Island, where he had few close encounters with the Landing Excursion Module (LEM) that landed on the moon. Richard worked as a maintenance electrician there. He got an opportunity to further his career as an electrician and decided to enter a four year long apprenticeship program with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Upon graduation, he was qualified to work at all levels and capacities in electrical construction and installation. He explains, “My experiences range from High Voltage splicing to installing Neutron Radiation Monitoring cables under the nuclear powerhouse reactor vessels. I did maintenance and new construction work in Hospitals, Federal Courthouses, Mom & Pop card stores, Shopping Centers, Universities, Industrial Centers and Traffic Signal and Lighting. I also did control work and with the advent of computers used in industry, I did a lot of data cabling to hook computers up to the rest of the world with intranet and internet access”.

In 1998, Richard met with an accident at his job which forced him into an early retirement. Discontent and restless, he continued to seek avenues where he could fulfill his passion for engineering and education. He smirks, “I always liked drafting, but was not so great at it”. He was introduced to CAD when it came out in the stores, and the rest is history.

He reflects, “Because of bad times in the construction industry I moved to South Florida to get away from the high taxes and cost of living on Long Island, especially when you are not working.  We were in our smaller home in Florida for about 14 years and I started doing volunteer work for the schools there”. He continually strived to support teachers that were teaching technical subjects and spent about 8 years working with the local schools there.

Around the year 2004, there were four back-to-back hurricanes in South Florida and around the same time, his son Rob got a job as a Cath Lab Manager at Sunrise Hospital, Las Vegas, Nevada. Therefore, the family decided to move to the desert and have been there ever since.

Richard with his wife Carmy on their 51st wedding anniversary

“It is hot out here in the summer months but there is a genuine need for community partners to come together and help our schools out. That is the main reason for my building of School Science Projects to help bring another dimension of learning into the classrooms”, he said.

He continues, “The Clark County School District is ranked at the very bottom in the school rankings across the US” and by using his fine skills in mathematics, he found out that the school district can only go up in the rankings at some future point in time”.

He is highly involved in the local high school technical academies, and is continuously working towards making school subjects more interesting by bringing technology into the classrooms.

“A backyard solar experiment with my homemade sun angle instrument” – Richard

Richard wears many hats at his job at the Northwest Career Technical Academy.  He was a part of the curriculum committee and is the longest community partner to have been asked to serve on the Academy of Engineering (AOE) board there. He provides technical assistance, creates designs using SOLIDWORKS and builds different types of engineering focused projects, which he then gives to the schools with the aim of promoting STEM education and careers. He is also a member of the Professionals and Youth Building a Commitment (PAYBAC) group of community people that encourages students to stay in school and to consider the technology courses, that the Clark County School District (CCSD) offers.  Richard has been funding most of his work from personal savings to promote an enhanced quality of education at each level.

In 2009, he and his son finished off the inside of an 1120 sq. ft. high-tech hobby workshop in the backyard at Richard’s home.

Richard’s High-Tech hobby workshop in his backyard

They equipped it with devices including a Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machine, Laguna 3 Axis Mill Router, and a 120 Watt Epilog Laser, engraving machine. They built the shop and bought the machines and tools with the aim of helping students and teachers and to inspire and motivate young learners to pursue technical careers or technical manufacturing related fields.

In his words, “As I am constantly learning, I am constantly teaching what I know. I do take college level courses on line and recently finished taking a Physics course from the University of Virginia, with Dr. Lou Bloomfield as my Professor”.

Richard has developed many creative and exciting projects, many of which have been highly acclaimed, and are being using at schools.

We asked him to tell us about the ‘Pegs and Gears system’ he designed amongst his other works.

“It was quite a while ago when I came up with the idea to design and build a gear set that could be used as a game and or a teaching aid for teachers. I had been creating such projects in the past, for the schools and even for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and even the University of Nevada (UNLV) in Las Vegas.

ASME Award winner in the year 2013

Our schools need these “hands on projects” to use in the classroom. Reading and studying from a book is a very important step in someone’s education, but for a better understanding of the theory, put something into the hands of students that they can actually touch and use that to reinforce the learning session to better understand it.

Center Pegs keep that gear in place on the backboard.  Using other gears to mesh with another gear is accomplished by using another center peg in that gear and finding a hole that will allow it to mesh properly with that other gear.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers wanted one of these sets for their annual displays that they put together for inspiring young children. They found that even the adults liked to play with these sets.

All the gears were cut out of MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard), which is a composite of glue and sawdust.  It is very uniform in texture, relatively cheap and a whole sheet of it fits perfectly on my CNC mill router. I program all the tool-paths to be cut with a CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) program that works with the SOLIDWORKS 3D modeling program, transfer it to a thumb drive and plug it into the USB port on my big Laguna Swift 3 Axis Mill Router and run the program that cuts out the parts. Smaller pegs are used to make ‘compound gear sets where one gear can be mounted on top of the other with just one or more pegs.

These are pictures of an unpainted set ready to be delivered to a school –

A profile view shows details not seen from above –

Many different types of gear sets or trains can be created using the different gears in each set I send out to the teachers.

You can actually see the young minds working here and not only the kids.

For the more complex assemblies of ‘gear trains’, I made a bigger board that allows more room and a greater number of possibilities for teachers. Gear Ratios can be assigned to see if students can assemble the correct gears.

These gear sets can be used to try out various configurations to inspire new ideas. These sets work very well with the STEM initiative in our schools.

The SolidWorks 3D Modeling Program is my very best tool in being creative enough to bring some great hands on’ STEM projects into the schools. Thanks to 3DS for believing in me and allowing me to use their program to help me teach our youngsters”.

Continue to read the multiple part blog series to learn more about the projects by Richard Williams.

Aanchal Singh

Aanchal Singh

I am currently an intern at SOLIDWORKS, and an MBA student at Boston University's Questrom School of Business. I love travelling, distance running, and (experimental) healthy cooking.