Looking into the future: "Fab Lab" Engages Students, Fulfills UA Cooperative Extension Mission
The sound of machines whirring, churning out laser cut signs, or creating plastic pieces to be turned into 3-D models, amid the murmur of excited students’ voices, are the background noises in the old former school library – now the “4-H Fab Lab” on the Blue Ridge School District Campus, in Lakeside, Arizona.
A joint partnership between the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension 4-H program and the Blue Ridge School District – the “Fab Lab” – or fabrication lab, is the ultimate in STEM programming for students – and eventually – the entire community in Navajo County.
They approached the district and UA Cooperative Extension about working together to create a partnership, and the STEM fab lab for students officially opened January 19, at a ‘Grand Opening’ ceremony.
STEM FAB LAB DREAM IS BORN
“The idea started a year ago,” says Steve Gouker, Associate Agent, 4-H Youth Development/Agriculture Production.
Gouker and Blue Ridge High School Physics teacher Kevin Wooldridge, who’s also a 4-H volunteer leader, wanted to come up with a way to provide math, science, physics and computers in one place, available to 4-Hers, and students in Navajo County and across the state.
SCIENCE TO THE PEOPLE THROUGH UA AND 4-H
“This machine alone costs $50,000, including set-up” said Gouker, pointing to the fusion laser.
“The average person is not going to be able to go out and buy this, and the Fab Lab makes it available,” said Gouker.
While traditionally 4-H has revolved around agriculture, program organizers say STEM – or science, technology, engineering and math – has always been a focus of 4-H, but particularly in the past few years.
A fab lab is a shared collection of digital fabrication equipment, and electronics platforms where students can create from beginning to end. The machines – where students make everything from printed circuit board plastic pieces to make 3-D models, to Posters, etched pictures and planters for a hydroponic garden – were donations from companies like Roland, Ultimaker and Epilog.
A local dentist’s office even did a trial run using the lab prior to the grand opening to learn to make dentures, while students use vinyl printers, UF Flatbed printers, and a high precision benchtop CNC machine that engraves printed circuit boards and soft materials.
Woolridge and Gouker say this is the first 4-H fab lab in the country, and the first public school in Arizona to have a facility like this.
“Wealthy schools can afford something like this. Poorer schools can’t. We wanted to create a program that gives access to all students regardless of where they come from,” said Woolridge.
Students and parents look forward to the opportunity the lab will provide.
“This is where fabrication happens – this is how companies make ‘stuff’ on a bigger scale – real world knowledge and application in a place you can easily access,“ said Larry Garrison, a teacher and parent of Josh Garrison, a senior at Blue Ridge High School.
“Science can be intimidating, scary. Many people say they did well, or I’m not so good at science,” Garrison said.
“The fab lab lets people understand how science works and how it applies to you, as an individual, as a company. As a parent, I like it because it allows my son to get involved with technology. He’s going to be going into the work force, and he’s already going to be able to understand how to do these things, and say ‘I know how to work with these programs’.”
Garrison’s son Josh came in during his winter break to help Woolridge and Gouker set the lab up, learn the technology, and now assists other youth with the various machines.
The fab lab is open to any 4-H member and 4-H clubs after 3pm during the school week, during summer and weekends, and it’s open to students during the school day.
Gouker says the plan is also for a small membership fee it would be open it up to the community.
The mission of University of Arizona Cooperative Extension is to take the science of the University to the people of Arizona through the 4-H program, among other programs, and Gouker and Woolridge agree the Fab Lab does just that.
“Taking science to the masses through the kids – that’s what 4-H is,” Wooldridge said.