Taking that first step into Area 59, the Center for Innovation and Fabrication at Gillette College, is the key to unlocking one’s inner maker.  For that is what it is, a maker space, according to Ian Scott, director of Area 59.

But what exactly is a maker space?  The way Ian described it, a maker space is comprised of three components: the people, the place, and the project.

“All of those things are coming together in one place,” Ian explained.  “I think that’s what makes us unique is the people component.  We want to engage our K-12, we want to engage our college students, and we want to engage our community.  It has a component for each one of those target audiences.”

This summer, Area 59’s focus is on the kids, those enrolled in K-12 education, through a series of what Ian calls “maker camps.”

For each camp, kids come to Area 59 every day for a week to focus on the act of creating certain projects.  This week, that project just happened to be a hollow paper tube with a point and wings that would be propelled through the air.  That’s right, during this week’s project the students were tasked with designing and building their own rockets.

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They started with air rockets, crude designs that did not hold together or perform very well.  Next, the kids moved to water bottle rockets; some of which performed considerably better than the previous rockets.

“We took our designs and they refined them,” Ian said.  “There were a lot more that succeeded with the rockets launched that day than those that failed.”  During the final day of the week’s camp, the students really got to shine and showcase everything they had learned throughout the week.  Through the process, Ian is passing on a valuable lesson to the kids—how to move forward from an idea into a project, and then eventually, a project into a product.

The rockets also provided the opportunity to teach the students about the properties of propulsion, aerodynamics, craftsmanship, and skill.  For example, Ian recalled one of the kids learned that the way he applied the duct tape to his rocket was a significant factor to the way that rocket failed.  Rather than wrapping the duct tape horizontally, the student applied it in a vertical fashion.

“When you loaded it up with pressure, it blew out that seam,” Ian said.  The rocket was what Ian calls a catastrophic failure, but the lesson didn’t stop there—the student was tasked with determining how and why the rocket failed.

“They learn from it, and they move forward,” Ian said.  But what he wasn’t expecting was for the kids to soak up the information so quickly and, for a couple of older kids, Ian had to come up with a creative way to make the project more challenging and rewarding. 

During the rocket projects, two tenth graders were given the opportunity to design their rocket tips on Auto Cad, cut them out on milling machines, and then install them on their respective rockets.  One of the tenth graders also worked on developing a micro control for a rocket launch sequence.

“We can move things forward a little bit for the older kids,” said Ian.

The next project for K-12 students is all about cars, starting with cars built on and powered by mousetraps.  Ian explained the metal spring will provide the propulsion as it pulls on a string wrapped around an axle.

Then, the students will progress to building pinewood derby cars.  Although, Ian said with a sly smile they will be doing it the ‘Area 59 way’, which means the students won’t be whittling a wooden box with a pocket knife and sandpaper.  The facility has everything the students need to design their cars on a computer program.  They will then take that design to one of Area 59’s four milling machines to cut out their cars.

Designing and cutting out the derby cars provides the kids with some real-world experience in manufacturing, albeit in a slightly different way.  Ian believes that there are a lot of great designers out there and a lot of great manufacturers, but there is an area between them that sometimes gets overlooked and, through Area 59, the students are given the opportunity to experience it.

“This is a great place to change yourself in a lot of different ways,” Ian said.  “I think there’s something ingrained in each of us to make something.”  In his experience, there is a distinct value in the act of making things and in the end product.  For example, when he was young he made a braided bracelet which he still has to this day.  When Ian was in junior high he made a stool for his mom, and it continues to sit in her home.

“There’s something really cool about making and then giving away,” he said.  And Area 59 will be set up in such a way that the possibilities for creation will be nearly limitless.

A $1.5 million grant has been secured, and Area 59 has already entered into the bidding process to acquire the equipment needed to provide students, and members of the community, everything they could possibly desire for creating.  When it is all said and done, Area 59 will boast a full range of machines and tools from robotic arm trainers and milling machines, to laser cutters and state-of-the-art computer programs.  Ian expects the equipment to start rolling in between August and October. 

So where to next for Gillette’s new and innovative maker space?

As the school year approaches, Ian said that he hopes to start a robotics league based in Area 59.  Students will be divided into two divisions: grades 4 through 8, and grades 7 through 12.  Robotic competitions exist across the nation, and the league developed at Area 59 would give Campbell County kids the opportunity to experience the competitions firsthand. 

By: Ryan L. Lewallen for 82717

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