CHEYENNE — At the University of Wyoming’s Innovation Wyrkshop, students immerse themselves in technology, learning everything from the basics of coding languages to industrial metal 3D printing.
Having seen the success of the program and the excitement of the students, Innovation Wyrkshop coordinator Tyler Kerr wanted to expand the program to give kids across the state of Wyoming a chance to delve into the tech world. Thanks to a grant from the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services’ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Kerr and the Innovation Wyrkshop team are in the beginning steps of funding five mini makerspaces around the state.
“What we’re trying to do is allow these students to dip their toes in the water and start to get familiar with these skills, but also develop all sorts of STEM and STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, art and math), hard and soft skills that will assist them in either pursuing a two-year or four-year degree, a trade school certification or going on to industry and going straight into work,” Kerr said.
The idea behind such makerspaces is to use the common interest of creating in tandem with technology and web skills to build a collaborative, idea-sharing community. And while the Innovation Wyrkshop is one of the biggest and best-equipped makerspaces in the Mountain West, Kerr said he didn’t want the opportunities to be limited to those who live in Laramie.
That’s where the $175,000 grant from the Department of Workforce Services comes in.
The plan is to create five mini makerspace locations, spending $35,000 on brand new equipment like 3D printers, and stipends for local educators and staff to help run it. Kerr is still looking for locations to house the mini makerspaces, preferably somewhere like a school, college or library with free space to use. They’re also looking for high-energy individuals to lead the classes, and Kerr made sure to note their enthusiasm is more important than any background in tech, because they’ll provide all the necessary tools and training.
Those interested in hosting a mini makerspace or becoming a teacher can apply at www.wyrkshop.org/apply. While there is no deadline for applications, Kerr recommended getting them in as soon as possible.
The makerspaces will offer preemployment transition services for students ages 14 to 21, with a focus on teaching students with disabilities tactical skills that will be useful in their future careers. A portion of the funding for each makerspace will pay for young adults with disabilities to maintain each space, teach workshops and share what they’re passionate about.
“It’s really not an exaggeration to say that the next industrial revolution is here, and it’s being led by a lot of these emerging tech centers like makerspaces. So the type of skills here aren’t going away; they’re only becoming more common across STEAM. And so our hope is by equipping these students with those skills, they could go on to be creative leaders in their communities. They could potentially and hopefully stick around Wyoming, instead of heading south to Colorado, where cities are growing faster,” Kerr said.
The goal for these new mini makerspaces is to host between 10 and 15 workshops a week, which will be available to students free of charge. At UW’s Innovation Wyrkshop, the courses range from Learning the Cricut Vinyl Cutter to Introduction to Data Cleaning with OpenRefine.
Students wishing to utilize the makerspace will be able to enroll in the Makerspace Access Pass, which will work as a credential to access other makerspaces across the state. With the pass, students earn patches when they complete certain workshops and programs for things like 3D modeling and virtual reality, then they’ll be able to use the equipment they’ve mastered at any makerspace that’s part of their network.
At the UW’s Innovation Wyrkshop, students will find a large project area, a hands-on prototyping workshop, a small wood shop and more than $1.4 million worth of new state-of-the-art equipment. And though the mini makerspaces will be a scaled down version of UW’s operation, Kerr said it’s a great chance to open the door for students.
“It’s our goal to be as inclusive as possible, and the overarching theme of any of our makerspaces will always be: We want to show that anyone can be a maker. You don’t have to be an engineer; you don’t have to be tech savvy. If this stuff seems scary, we’ll help you show that it’s not that scary. And it doesn’t require you to have a strong background in tech. All we need is enthusiasm. We will bring the rest,” Kerr said.