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Published October 13, 2022
Rural and remote communities and schools in Wyoming soon will have access to robots, 3D printers, drones, laser cutters and all kinds of other STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) educational electronic tools and equipment. That is because the University of Wyoming’s Wyrkshop Mobile Makerspace program is ready to roll.
An open house for UW faculty and staff is scheduled from 4-5 p.m. today (Thursday) in the parking lot behind the Visual Arts Building. The event will highlight the mobile makerspaces that will soon roll out to communities throughout Wyoming. A ribbon-cutting event to provide a sneak peek of one of the mobile makerspace trailers took place Oct. 3.
“The Wyrkshop Mobile Makerspace program seeks to bridge the gap between rural and remote Wyoming communities and brick-and-mortar makerspaces,” says Emily Leinen, mobile makerspace coordinator. “Students across Wyoming can earn cross-institutional credentials and get hands-on experience with cutting-edge STEAM technology and equipment in their own communities. Exposure to these makerspaces will help prepare students for future careers in STEAM fields, industry, community college and four-year universities.”
Of Wyoming’s 179 communities, 79 percent are considered rural. Throughout the state, there are 11 major brick-and-mortar makerspaces that offer access to introductory and advanced emergent technology and associated curriculum, Leinen says.
These brick-and-mortar makerspaces are typically located in larger towns, which means that associated creative resources are less accessible to rural and remote communities -- particularly during winter. As a result, youth in Wyoming’s rural and remote communities have limited access to experiential learning opportunities and are at a competitive disadvantage compared to their counterparts living in more areas that are populous.
However, that is all about to change.
There are three types of mobile makerspaces -- crates, trailers and mobile workshops -- available to suit rural communities throughout Wyoming. The concept is comparable to the old bookmobile, but with technological equipment -- rather than books -- on wheels being brought to the doorsteps of schools. There are three maker crates that contain five pieces of equipment; the trailer option includes two 7-by-14-foot trailers where equipment is pulled out to make a pop-up makerspace; and the mobile workshop option is an 8.5-by-28-foot cargo trailer where students can go both inside and outside. This workshop includes all of the equipment in the 7-by-14-foot trailers but in larger quantities.
Equipment in the mobile makerspaces includes 3D printers, a Glowforge 3D laser cutter, LEGO and LEGO Mindstorm, codable kits and toys, ozobots, microcontrollers and electronics, mini drones, sewing machines, a soldering bench, projectors, laptops, iPads and woodshop tools.
“With these mobile makerspaces, rural communities will be able to have creative sources for their K-12 students that they may not normally get the chance to use,” says Ashley Hope Carlisle, a UW professor of sculpture. Some of her students helped design and build the inside of the 7-by-14-foot trailer. “The goal is to engage students with electronics as well as craft and art-making materials and equipment. We want to get them working with their hands so they can develop their problem-solving skills.”
During the Oct. 3 event, Dillon Weiss, a UW junior from Jackson majoring in mechanical engineering, said he was part of a robotics club during high school. Weiss was among several students who helped design the mobile makerspace trailer and come up with ways to make sure the devices do not jostle during transport.
“When I first saw a robot, it was like going to space for me. Robotics is what inspired me to become an engineer,” Weiss said. “This could inspire other kids to become engineers.”
Students can train in one makerspace and instantly gain access to the entire network. Under the collaborative Maker Access Map program, students can attend free workshops, earn badges, learn marketable skills and gain hands-on experience with world-class equipment, all for free. Makerspaces provide a critical opportunity to access emergent technology and fabrication tools that may otherwise be inaccessible due to cost, size, ventilation, power or other factors.
Mobile makerspaces can stay at a school -- at no cost -- from one month to six months, Leinen says.
Startup funding for the project was made possible through support from Gov. Mark Gordon’s Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP) initiative. WIP’s goal is to improve Wyoming’s economic prosperity through the coordinated efforts that link community goals and strengths to the state’s strategy for economic development and diversification.
“The governor signed off on this and is excited about all of the components,” Leinen says. “My component (Wyrkshop Mobile Makerspace) is $1.5 million.”
For more information about the Wyrkshop Mobile Makerspace program, go to www.uwyo.edu/wip/makerspace. To find a local makerspace, go to www.wyrkshop.org/map. To request a mobile makerspace, email Leinen at email@example.com or go to the website for more information.