Genius Garage Gives Students Hands-On Engineering Experience

Working together, they get real-world experience building and racing cars and airplanes
July 6, 2020 Updated: July 6, 2020

Ever since Casey Putsch was a child, he’s had an interest in race car driving and automotive engineering. His father was passionate about vintage cars, and he would take Putsch to the race track for a variety of events. Growing up, Putsch revealed a knack for mechanics, which was fostered by building his own model cars for slot car racing and model airplanes.

Putsch ultimately became an amateur race car driver, and his mechanical background allowed him to go far in the sport. At age 26, he restored a car that had run in American Can-Am race series in the 1960s, and had the opportunity to compete with the car in an international Can-Am reunion race.

In 2011, he even built his own turbine-powered Batmobile, which was known for drawing the attention of the police. In one instance, a police car pulled up next to him at a stoplight in Columbus, Ohio. The officer jokingly motioned to Putsch that he himself was Batman, but couldn’t see Putsch through the tinted glass. Putsch turned on the loudspeaker and growled, “I am Batman,” in response. The officer cracked up and drove off laughing.

Academia and Industry

Putsch, who is based in Perrysburg, Ohio, was mentoring engineering students at a local university, and when he returned to his engineering shop, he had an epiphany. He realized he had a facility where students could work and a plethora of professional contacts with a lifetime of wisdom to share.

“I just simply thought if I was going to be involved with racing and airplanes and things like this, why don’t I do it in a structured way that will make the difference for young people?” Putsch said.

Putsch realized he had the opportunity to mentor young engineers to help cultivate their passion by giving them hands-on experience, and ultimately get them noticed by employers and give them confidence as their careers began. Reflecting on his own college experience, and seeing a gap between academia and industry, he founded Genius Garage in 2013.

After his own college experience, Putsch realized there was a gap between academia and industry. (Courtesy of Genius Garage)

“Industry is really not set up to train their incoming youth, and the educational model in America actually does a pretty good job of what it does, but the part that’s missing is the real-world cultivation of the individual,” Putsch said.

Putsch’s goal is to bridge the gap between academia and industry, and to cultivate our youth to ensure a better future. To close this divide, Putsch provides an environment where young people can grow. He began this initiative by having the young people at Genius Garage start a racing team, which demands real-world business, engineering, and competition skills.

“The powerful side effect I found from that is just how much the Genius Garage curriculum matters to industry,” Putsch said. “They can hire the best students out of college–the best engineers–but the problem is not the intellectual side for the engineers, they’re doing that well in school, the problem is the behavioral side,” meaning practical aspects such as hands-on training and learning to work with a team.

Genius Garage
Genius Garage features a variety of vehicles. (Courtesy of Genius Garage)

Putsch also has profound interests in history, culture, philosophy, and the natural world, which have greatly influenced his career and work with young people. He stresses the importance of growing as an individual, community, nation, and civilization, and believes that people like him have the obligation to lead. He saw an opportunity to help young people, and there was leadership missing, so he decided to take the initiative to make a difference and try to forge a better future for all of us.

“Our youth–our future is succession. It is the future, and if we can’t utilize our collective wisdom, and care, and passion, and art in the most constructive and worthwhile way possible to cultivate the so-called garden of humanity for the future, then we’re just stuck to be wandering around in the darkness, and that’s not good enough for me,” Putsch said.

Real-World Application

At Genius Garage, Putsch features a curriculum for a racing team, an aerospace team, and a design team. Each team focuses on one specific project, and young people have to work together to build a car or airplane that can function and compete. Typically a team includes eight students working together for six months.

The curriculum also includes research, writing, and business components. When a student goes into a job interview, their experience at Genius Garage is what gets the most attention. Often, they have to explain to the interviewer that they didn’t build a model, but instead an actual functioning car or plane. They often discuss how they overcame adversity and how they came together with their fellow teammates to work toward a common goal during their time at Genius Garage.

When a student secures a job, it’s incredibly rewarding for Putsch.

“That means everything because that is the moment where the original spark to give young people the opportunity that I never had, that I knew the world needed, that’s the moment when it really matters,” Putsch said.

Students from Genius Garage compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Courtesy of Genius Garage)

Genius Garage acquires many of its vehicles from donors. Most recently, Genius Garage received a donated 1967 Morgan Plus 4 Drophead Coupe from a family in Georgia. The family reached out to Putsch and expressed how supportive they were of the organization’s mission, and donated the car.

The young people at Genius Garage have the opportunity to see Old World engineering, and many of those old techniques are valuable because they are potentially relevant to modern and future engineering. In addition to the Morgan, these special historical cars and planes represent the best of engineering, passion, drive, and sport of mankind from a particular time period. These vehicles can be used to teach valuable lessons. Students get hands-on experiences with these vehicles, and they develop an appreciation for history.

“By utilizing the best things from history to teach our young people we’re setting them up for success,” Putsch said.