Infosys Foundation USA Crossroads 2017: “Creating A Flourishing Maker Ecosystem” (Part 5)

My fourth session of the day began with the premier of a short video from the Infosys Foundation USA’s #WhyIMake series featuring Nick Offerman of NBC’s Parks and Recreation talking about his woodworking hobby.

The session was moderated by Dorothy Jones Davis, the executive director of Nation of Makers with panelists Mark Hatch, a pioneer in the makerspace movement as the former CEO of the membership-based DIY workshop TechShop and author of The Maker Movement Manifesto; Sonya Pryor-Jones, a former teacher and the Chief Implementation Officer of Fab Foundation (an organization that originated at the MIT Center for Bits & Atoms); and Trey Lathe, the executive director of Maker Ed.

The session began with a discussion of ecosystems and how the concept applies to the maker movement. The consensus was that flourishing ecosystems are made up of diverse members who offer unique assets but, importantly, are interconnected – individuals that are part of the system depend on each other.

But how exactly to make the system flourish? Mark Hatch talked about the need to back up the makerspace message with qualitative data relating to student outcomes and economic development. As an example, he talked about an innovation initiative at Ford that included the opening of a TechShop makerspace to encourage employees to develop and prototype their ideas. (In a short period of time, the automaker was able to double the number of patents granted to the company.)  The financial impact of just three makerspaces in the San Francisco Bay Area was mentioned, as well, citing an economic impact of $800 million and the creation of 2,000 jobs paying more than $200 million in salaries.

Beyond economic impact figures, there seems to be little qualitative information about the affect of school-based makerspaces on student outcomes, i.e. what happens 10 years after a student’s Fab Lab experience? Nevertheless, the panelists believe that forward-thinking schools need to embrace the maker movement to afford students with great opportunities and important real world skills. Trey Lathe expressed his belief that schools shouldn’t have makerspaces – they should be makerspaces, where students are free to invent and build. Lathe also discussed his organization’s partnership with the Americorps VISTA program to develop maker initiatives in five low-income community’s outside of Maker Ed’s home state of California. 

Sonya Pryor-Jones discussed the Fab Foundation’s work to spread awareness and resources to the global maker community. (Here in Mississippi, the state’s first Fab Lab, a $1.2 Million project located in Vancleave will soon be opening thanks to Chevron’s partnership with the Fab Foundation. The Fab Lab is expected to open in late 2017.)

During the question and answer session, Dorothy Jones discussed the National Week of Making, June 16-22, 2017, and encouraged audience members to host a maker event and submit information and photos to the Week of Making website.


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Photo: Fab Lab at Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (Paris, France) by Knowtex, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.