Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas
Many know that I believe there should be a Fab Lab or maker space in every rural community in Kansas. My guest columnist today is Lea Ann Seiler, director of Hodgeman County Economic Development, north of Dodge City in western Kansas. She has made much progress in a year and one half to bring a maker space to her community and her traction started with area youth.
"I first attended the Fab Lab Community Bootcamp in the winter of 2018. (I think it may have even been the very first one.) I loved it. It was great! I was so excited that I stayed up late in my hotel room making plans, so when I got back home, I would be READY. In fact, by the time I drove back to Western Kansas (in an ice storm), I was thoroughly convinced that everyone in my community would be excited in the same way…ready to jump on board and “recreate” this amazing place in Hodgeman County. Imagine my surprise when people were not quite as receptive as I was. I am not exaggerating when I say I was beyond disbelief and sad at the same time. I mean, I have a great Board. Our community is filled with creative, intelligent people. We aren’t made of money, but we are creative and can usually find a way to do something if it is important to us. I sang the praises of the Fab Lab loud and clear. Every chance I got…I pointed out all of the things that we could “do for ourselves” if we had the same equipment. I talked to teenagers and pointed out entrepreneurial opportunities. But still, I wasn’t getting the same reaction I expected….the excitement was definitely missing. I was cautioned that “the Fab Lab is at a Community College…we don’t have a Community College”.
"So, I did what I usually do when I hit a brick wall …I looked for a way around it. (That whole “begging for forgiveness rather than waiting for permission thing”? It’s a good thing!) I started thinking about how we could get the kids in the community excited – knowing that when they were, it would surely spread to their parents and grandparents. By the time this “lightbulb” went off….it was already summer. I quickly searched for available dates and planned a camp. The camp would be for youth 2nd through 6th grade and would be held at our Business and Culinary Incubator. Network Kansas graciously agreed to help me out with part of the costs, and I designed flyers; got it out on Face Book; and started planning. I thought it would be great to offer some of the great things I had learned about at the Fab Lab, so I ordered a few Arduino kits; and I am fascinated with 3D Printing, so I added 3D Printing to the camp rotation too. THEN, I remembered that I didn’t really have any experience beyond my 30-minute Arduino experience at the Fab Lab….and did not own a 3D printer. (Details like this tend to get in the way.) I called my friends at the Kiowa County Media Center and talked them into helping me….Mike offered to bring his 3D Printers and teach 3D Printing, and Grant agreed to teach Podcasting. Simone and Anne, from Network Kansas, also agreed to help teach a rotation on “Thinking Entrepreneurially”. We were almost set. Fear set in. I still didn’t have anyone who could help with coding. Then, exactly 10 days before the camp…while I was still frantically contacting people from all over the state….a young lady who had just graduated from college called. She said that she had seen my Face Book posts about the camp and wondered if I could use any help with coding. “She had some time that week and would love to help.” (I later found out that her wedding was that week as well!) I was beyond excited! Up until that point, I was pretty much convinced that this was going to be a spectacular failure and that it would be long remembered. (I have a few spectacular failures like that.) Camp week came, and I lost a couple of volunteers, due to work schedules and illness, but we did it on a skeleton crew and it was a HUGE success! Actually, the things that didn’t work out the way I had intended, didn’t even get noticed by anyone else. Finally! Kids were excited, parents were calling and writing notes – wanting to make sure that their kids would be on the mailing list for the next camp. Adults were asking questions about the equipment and how we might get it here full-time.
"Since then, I’ve written a few small grants and have been fundraising (WeKAN) for equipment. Jim and Joanne brought out the mobile Fab Lab for demonstrations (another Network Kansas grant). This summer we held two more camps and set up a “mini-camp” at the County Fair. Soon, our Laser Engraver will be added to the 3D Printers; Arduino and robotic kits; engineering challenges; embroidery machine; and vinyl cutters that have been collected so far for the Maker Space. It’s FINALLY coming together. I’m pretty sure that there will be a few more challenges, such as maintaining the equipment (which I’m learning) and training/keeping volunteers so we can be open on a regular basis. However, I’ll always be thankful to Jim, Tim and Joanne for planting that BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in my brain and to Network Kansas for the grant to get me there in the first place! My advice? Don’t get discouraged if your community isn’t quite ready, remember, they may not have visited the Fab Lab yet. Don’t feel like you have to wait until you’re ready….or it may never happen. Just jump in and get started….it will come together in a way that may be smaller but will still be impactful in your community."
Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at email@example.com or Twitter @jimcorrellks. Archive columns and podcast at jimcorrell.com.