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The History of Fab Lab ICC

Jim Correll, Director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas

The question is fairly common “How did this place come about?” We probably don’t tell the story often enough. Prompted by the grant application for our new building, I just finished summarizing how Fab Lab ICC got its start, then one of only 200 members of the International Fab Lab Network in the world, and at the smallest community college in Kansas.

Fab Lab ICC opened on October 1, 2014, seven months after ICC president Dan Barwick and I met and made the go no/go decision to move forward. Discussions with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation head of entrepreneurship, Thom Ruhe, began in October of 2013 the night before the annual conference of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) in Charlotte, NC. In that conversation, Thom challenged me to ask Kauffman for a $50,000 match grant to purchase most of the new equipment. We subscribed to the charter of the International Fab Lab Network, spawned after the start of Fab (fabrication) Labs by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2000. To belong to the International Fab Lab network, the charter requires that the Fab Lab be available to the community.

I began talking about a Fab Lab or maker space early in 2012 after an inspirational experience at the NACCE conference in October of 2011 in Portland Oregon. In the beginning, most of the talking took place during our Monday “Entrepreneurs Brown Bag Lunch” series initiated in November of 2011. We began speaking in the affirmative that we would have a Fab Lab someday. In the beginning, we didn’t know if it would be a part of the college—academia is sometimes slow to accept new ideas-- or be community based, as is Fab Lab Tulsa. Dan Barwick was one of the first at ICC, early in 2013, to see the potential of having a Fab Lab on campus.

Fab Lab ICC is located in what was formerly known as the Cessna Learning Center, a training facility of 8,000 square feet built in 1996 for employees working in the new Cessna small business jet plant constructed at the Independence Municipal Airport. ICC collaborated with Cessna to provide much of the training. In return, when the building was no longer needed by Cessna (about five years ago) building ownership passed to ICC. Classes were scheduled in the two large classrooms of the building, but the 1,800 square foot shop area was not used. The shop space was well-suited for Fab Lab ICC with heavy duty electrical wiring and plumbing for compressed air already in place. This building is now known as the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

It wasn’t long after opening that the shop space, which looked big as we repainted an empty room, started becoming crowded. Fab Lab ICC now occupies the west classroom (1600 square feet) in addition to the shop space.

In 2019, as we approach 30,000 visitors since we opened in October of 2014, we have added an additional building of about 7,000 square feet. The results we see in people from all walks of life using Fab Lab ICC have been remarkable. We hope that other rural communities in Kansas and the Mid-West will take notice and initiate maker spaces in all small towns. They don’t all have to be as big as ours; a laser and a 3D printer in the local library or community center would be a great way to start.

Twice each year, we host what we call a Community Boot Camp, how to build a Fab Lab or maker space from ground zero. During this 2 ½ day “camp” we cover the aspects of how we started and how the community has become engaged with us. It is our hope that “campers,” who come from all over Kansas and are starting to come from around the United States, will be inspired to go home and start a small maker space and watch it grow as did ours.

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 jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks.

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