How long have you existed?  

Planning meetings began meeting in the fall of 2008.  The fablab began with initial tests with groups of young people in the Summer of 2009, and then followed with an official opening in the October of 2009. We’ve been open to the public consistently ever since!

Who uses your workshop?

Our users are a diverse group in many ways as they come from a variety backgrounds and cultures. They have ranged from 10 years to 92 years old, and include adult hobbyists, students and researchers, retirees and professional artisans.  

Some maker spacers are small, close-knit but isolated clubs. Others are large corporate or university Fab Labs. We strive to break out of this model to get to the underserved parts of our community. Besides maintaining a lab that is free to use we reach people where they are in four ways.

  1. Open Lab – Our lab is open to the public 3 days a week during off-work times (currently Tue/Thu evenings, Sunday days). This allows people to casually walk in and find good parking. We can rely on people who work from 9-5 as volunteers for this span.
  2. Bringing in Groups – We arrange special workshops with classes and organizations frequently. These are scheduled based on their needs and our volunteer availability, and often happen during the day when kids are in school. This allows us access to students. We rely on academics, staff and retirees for this service.
  3. Event Deployments – We often go out and run small Fab Lab booths at events. We have a dedicated set of mobile tools, infrastructure (table/power), example creations and paper publicity to make this easy. This allows us to network with many people and break the lab out of the lab.
  4. Mini Labs – The above is not enough to really get to some of the underserved parts of our community. We’ve specifically set up three mini labs around town to directly insert Fab Lab opportunities into powerful contexts – an elementary school, public library and after-school center.

An example  user case might be when one of our volunteers brought in her father, a former engineer, to work on his invention. He needed assistance learning the necessary computer skills so a  teen user sitting next to him in the lab took the time to assist him. Later they were both in the electronics room at the same time where the young man was trying to unsuccessfully solder circuitry on his board. The retired engineer sat and taught him how to do it. While our users may come from many different places in life they all come together and form knowledge and relationships through creation.

Who is on your team?

The CUC FabLab is an open source community (think about the implications of that term!) of people who like to design and make things. We are staffed by volunteers with a wide range of experiences including a blacksmith, engineers, artists, professors, teachers, parents, kids and students. Our core group of volunteers has varied somewhat over the years but has always involved leadership from both the community and university - this is a central value for us.

How do you feel you have impacted the community?

We celebrate entrepreneurial initiative, collaboration and lifelong learning. We provide the community many resources, including skilled volunteers, computers, computer-controlled (CNC) machines, advanced materials and electronics assembly tools. These high tech tools have made it possible for patrons to build virtually anything imaginable, from simple stickers to fully-functional robots. The uniqueness of our site has encouraged local inventors to develop prototypes for their designs.  The CUC FabLab  is part of a global network of Fab Labs -- which has made it possible for us to make many connections with like minded people around the world sharing our experience globally.

Other impacts might include:

  • Innovation Driven by Community-University Partnership - Working with community groups has enabled us to develop more effective methods for teaching people how to learn and use technology in relevant ways. Examples have inclded using a game interface (Spore) as a more effective way to do 3D rendering, connecting art foundations basics to digital graphic design methods and enabling collaborative pedagogical production and documentation via Google Docs.
  • Recasting the Digital Divide - Community Informatics usually focuses on the low end of the digital divide, people without access to and skills with basic computer technology. Historically, rapid fabrication and prototyping production facilities have been open only to highly privileged individuals such as designers, engineers and researchers in university and corporate settings. The Fab Lab breaks up both of these things by enabling often disenfranchised individuals, especially teens and the elderly, to be a part of the cutting-edge of digital technology. Individuals go beyond simply typing email, plugging in to Facebook or playing flash games to actually inventing and building solutions to problems.
  • Alternative Learning Contexts - Learning that takes place within the Fab Lab is often of two alternative varieties, non-formal, and informal. These forms are notably distinguished in that they are less hierarchical, less propaedeutic in nature (reliant on former schooling) and are typically voluntary. Even though learners may set out with the specific objective of learning how to, say, build a box with a laser engraver, they necessarily develop other seemingly unrelated skills simultaneously. For instance, the person interested in creating a star-shaped box may have to struggle to learn how to properly describe what they wish to do, practicing verbal communication skills, and later, if they decide to draw it, visual expression and projection as well. This learning is incidental and unintentional, but is consciously absorbed. Attitudes and behaviors are crucial to successful scholarly learning experiences. These are ‘learned’ through the life-long process of socialization, as people perform their identities in everyday life. The Fab Lab has the potential to elate and incite curiosity, drum up motivation, encourage divergent thinking through experimentation, and require patience and persistence.
  • Metrics for Digital Literacy - –First, people learn a undamentally empowering lesson: they too can be a creator of things. Not just information, not just ideas, but the combination of the two applied to real world physical objects that they can hold (within minutes!). Implicit to this notion is that they are able to influence the world around them. Everyone involved may experience this empowerment: students, teachers, and volunteers. –Second, people work towards demystifying the black boxes so rampant in our world today. Many people grow up without learning how the inside of a computer works or what takes places behind the scenes as a graphic is created. The Fab Lab encourages digging beneath the surface (seeing inside of the open-face 3D printer) to discover cause and effect processes. Even just opening the lid of the Silhouette Cameo cutter and trading out the blade and loading the cutting mat helps to dismantle small fears that could eventually accumulate to the debilitating levels often seen in some elderly people when they try to learn how to use computers. Rejecting the surface world and peering beneath the surface of technologies is key to critiquing them and mastering them to make them their own.

You biggest achievement to date?

Our most surprising achievement is the sense of ‘community’ which has  formed among our volunteers and users. The amount of time donated and energy expended as we work together towards a common goal is impressive. All of us has a common goal no matter what our age: to make our community a better place and share what we have with other communities. We sponsor a Youth Science Groups as well as  offer a wide variety of workshops which reach local at risk youth as well as future entrepreneurs and inventors which are popular. In these we have been successful in introducing STEAM activities and careers to local youth by exposing them to our volunteers who actually have careers in those fields. It has been gratifying to watch the volunteers enthusiasm and knowledge being picked up by the young people they are interacting with. Many of our workshop attendees are repeat users at the fablab, and often become volunteers themselves.

Why do you do what you do (what is your vision?)

A lot of this was illustrated above in terms of community impacts. Today there is a tendency to sit on the sidelines and point out the problems in our community. Our goal is  to impact our community by giving  our time,  knowledge, training, and  talent to tutoring and mentoring in a positive environment.  We designed our space  to encourage creativity and inventiveness. Our purpose as volunteers is to assist our users in translating their ideas into the real concrete world by teaching them the skills they need. After they achieve this we encourage them to share their skills with others. In  joining and working together towards this common goal we hope our efforts will have a bigger impact.