WAYNESBURG – With the new fabrication lab at Intermediate Unit 1’s Waynesburg campus, students are encouraged to use their imaginations to make anything they can think of.
It’s made normally shy students more outgoing and those with behavioral issues calm down, all while they learn STEM principles.
Waynesburg’s fab lab is IU1’s third, with another at the Colonial campus in Fayette County and a mobile fab lab that travels to school districts throughout Washington, Greene and Fayette counties. The Waynesburg campus in EverGreene Technology Park, unveiled to the public Thursday morning, was built in part with a $200,000 grant from Chevron.
Students, administrators, community leaders and Chevron representatives all celebrated the opening with tours and student demonstrations. The hands-on approach, IU1 Waynesburg Principal Kristin Szewczyk said, is how their students learn best.
The benefit of the lab, which contains 3D printers, a laser cutter, vinyl cutter, heat press and other fabrication tools, was best illustrated by the students themselves.
Born with technology in their hands, this type of work comes naturally to students, Szewczyk said. Students often are teaching the staff.
“The possibilities are endless,” she said. “We are truly making a difference in the lives of our students.”
Seventh-grader Cristian Rychtarsky was especially excited to show visitors around the lab.
“This place is a world where you can express your imagination. All this technology that you can easily use,” he said during the grand opening ceremony. “You can basically build anything, as long as it’s small enough. ... This is an amazing place.”
Before, during and after remarks from those involved in the project, students were buzzing about the lab, laser cutting glasses with their school logos, using the 3D printers and creating designs on computers. Wooden calendars and centerpieces were on display to commemorate the event.
Many in attendance noted how they wished they had something like the fab lab in their school when they were growing up, including IU1 assistant executive director Don Martin.
“This has been a game-changer in terms of how we educate,” he said.
John Kopp, the fab lab teacher at the Waynesburg campus, started in Greene County in December, but has been teaching with IU1 for 15 years. He said the biggest problem in teaching the students is getting them to contain their excitement because they are so anxious to get to work.
“It really helps the children that are trying to find their place,” he said.
Students at the campus often lack self-worth and confidence, IU1 officials said, but students can’t wait to show off their fab lab creations. They make items for their teachers. One student, eighth-grader Destiny Daniels, had the idea to make a school butterfly tree, with each student and staff member’s name on it. Every part of the mural was made in the fab lab.
Kopp’s focus prior to teaching in the fab lab was in math and he has an interest in technology, so learning the tools in the lab came relatively easy to him. Part of the learning process is making mistakes, though, and Kopp said he makes sure to show students his failures in the creation process. If they see the whole development of an item, it becomes more attainable for them.
Kopp said students are constantly busy in the fab lab, focused on making things, so behavioral issues seem to melt away.
Not only are the students learning math and science, but also how to work together in teams and think creatively. They’re working on their social skills, something these students often struggle with. Kopp said students really take charge of their education. Students often ask, “Do you think we can make this?” and Kopp encourages them to try.
He loves coming to work, and the excitement still hasn’t worn off for him or his students. They come in each day, eager to make something new.
Also assisting in establishing the fab lab was the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, which helped to provide training for staff. Martin said the vision began to germinate with a $5,000 makerspace grant from Benedum, an idea that grew into full-fledged labs. Benedum vice president James Denova said their organization focuses on rural philanthropy and has partnered with IU1 for several years. The future of education will be tailored to individual learning styles and needs. He added it’s rare to see collaboration between public education, corporations and foundations.
Lee Ann Wainwright, government and public affairs specialist at Chevron, worked with the school during the creation of the lab. Chevron helped fund two fab labs in the region – the Colonial campus lab in Grindstone and another at Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh – both of which opened in 2015. That IU1 lab in Fayette County did well enough to warrant another stationary lab in Greene County.
“You dream it, you can do it here,” she said.
Wainwright said the Greene County lab is a great resource for the region and could be used by other county districts. Making a tangible item really reinforces STEM principles, and the students benefit from a personal, experimental type of learning.
Brandon Prentice manages all of IU1’s fab labs and is the main instructor for the mobile lab. The labs don’t just benefit students at the campuses, but the mobile lab travels to schools throughout their coverage area and beyond. They also host evening classes for families and adults. More information on the fab labs is available at www.iu1.org/fablab.