April 2, 2014
The South Whidbey Science Fund, a new nonprofit dedicated to improving the math and science literacy of South Whidbey kids, has announced plans to create MakerTron Labs—the first “maker-space” on Whidbey.
What’s a maker-space? It’s a place where people of all ages can come together to build things—whether they be made of wood or metal, fabric or computer code. MakerTron Labs will first open The Repair Space where folks can learn how to repair and maintain computers, appliances and simple electronics. They will be able to take things apart and be guided into putting them back together again. Additional classes in the future might include game design, computer animation and art, robotics and making smart phones work for you.
Eventually the goal is to also have a tech room with a laser cutter, 3D printer, 3D scanner, a CNC router or cutting machine and other state-of-the-art equipment, and eventually a wood shop and a metal shop. Some space would also be available to local fabricators willing to open their shops now and then for a class or an apprenticeship. Participation in MakerTron Labs activities is expected to be either by membership or by donation. Some repair services will be free to seniors.
The SWSciFund is the brainchild of SWHS alum Andy Gilbert, son of middle-school science teacher Sandy Gilbert and inventor/machinist Bill Gilbert. Its mission is “to foster future leaders in the fields of science, engineering and technology through education, hands-on experience and community involvement.” Damien Cortez, a fellow team member on South Whidbey Science Champions and Science Olympiad teams back in the day, is working with Gilbert as the fund’s executive director.
Gilbert grew up watching his dad take things apart and put them back together so they worked, so he has always been interested in engineering and technology. He has worked at Facebook and co-founded a successful data analysis and warehousing business in California that employs several of his fellow alums. When he returned to Whidbey to live with his wife and son, he realized that more could be done to help prepare our kids for the jobs of the future—like those at his own company.
For the past six months Gilbert and Cortez have been doing their research and talking to dozens of people with an interest in increasing the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills of South Whidbey kids. Science teachers Sandy Gilbert, Greg Ballog and K-8 educator Katja Willeford joined the SWSciFund board, along with statistician Andy Martin, another SWHS grad.
Since Gilbert and Cortez are fathers of young children, their first priority is to offer STEM enrichment classes and programs at all levels in school and off-site to students of both public and private schools. They are currently working with South Whidbey educators to offer enrichment classes in creating computer games at Langley Middle School and a club at South Whidbey High School for potential Internet entrepreneurs (and maybe drone builders)—so if technology is your field, consider helping with a class.
They also want to give young people a chance to experience the joy of working with their hands and their heads, of putting things together and taking them apart (in either order). SWSciFund advisor Lynn Willeford proposed a maker-space as a signature project for the new organization. Gilbert liked the intergenerational aspect of the idea. Cortez saw that the maker-space might help provide income to support the fund, a model he recognized as a former coordinator of the Good Cheer food bank, which is partially supported by the profits of its thrift stores.
The organization has already leased space in the mall at Ken’s Korner for MakerTron Labs, a program they expect to expand greatly over the next few years. Now they are looking for people who are interested in helping make this dream a reality. They’re looking for volunteers right now to help paint the spaces, re-install rubber base, build lab tables and more. They want to identify people who know how to make and fix things and are willing to teach, facilitate, or mentor. They are on the lookout for old chairs for seating and other office furniture. They are looking for retired carpenters and metal workers willing to let go of some of their equipment and avid garage-sale shoppers willing to keep an eye out for tools. “We want spare tools, spare parts and your spare time,” Gilbert says.
If you’re interested in volunteering to help make MakerTron Labs a reality or want to donate materials, please contact Damien or Andy at email@example.com. If you’d like to stop by the MakerTron Labs space in the Ken’s Korner Mall behind Skagit Valley College on Mondays between 2 and 6 p.m., they’ll be glad to give you a tour and expand on their vision.