Downtown Randolph played host recently to an interactive showcase of technology, engineering, and manufacturing courtesy of the Randolph Mini Maker Faire.
The Faire, which attracted parents, students, and DIY enthusiasts from across the White River Valley, featured exhibits designed to ignite a sense of curiosity and ingenuity across a range of disciplines that stretched from electrical engineering and drone aviation, to 3D printing and traditional weaving techniques.
Event organizer and AmeriCorps member Crystal Hand of the RACDC helps a faire-goer with a computerized drawing program that will eventually cut a custom-designed sticker out of vinyl. (Herald / Dylan Kelley)
Organized by the Randolph Area Community Development Corporation (RACDC), this second iteration of the Mini Maker Faire built upon the previous year’s success with more exhibits and increased foot traffic, according to Nathan Johnston, who provides information technology services for RACDC. “It was so popular last year, here we are again!” laughed Johnston as he staffed an exhibit that explored the emerging technology often described as the “Internet of Things.”
“The people are really excited about it and it seems not hard to find that type of person around here,” said Johnston. “I screw around with wires and circuits all day by myself,” said Johnston sardonically, “but here you can put it all out on a table and attract other people that think that’s cool.” The chance to personally engage with high technology—and the experts who work with it—provides a unique opportunity for young people growing up in a rural environment, said Johnston.
“A 3D printer might be something that you’ve heard of or seen on TV,” he said, “but [maybe] you’ve never watched it or spoke to someone that runs one and get to ask them questions.”
Such direct access, opens the door for students to have a rare moment of self-discovery and personal growth.
“Hopefully this area here is creating something like that, where they see a drone or they see a microchip, or a 3D printer and think ‘Oh, that’s really neat’ and just roll that around in their head,” said Johnston enthusiastically. “And then you have the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.”
A Maker Economy
Emerging after the digital revolution of the early 2000s and the DIY movement of the ’90s, the Maker movement is poised to become a centerpiece of the American economy. USA Today reported in 2014 that as many as 135 million U.S. adults were participating or contributing to a maker-centric industry.
For Crystal Hand, an AmeriCorps service member and RACDC staffer who was key to organizing this year’s Faire, that emerging economy extends all the way to the rural villages of the White River Valley.
“When I got here, it was explained that there’s not a lot of development,” said Hand, who originally hails from California. “So, for employment, a lot of people make their own things and start up their own businesses,” she said.
According to Hand, that self-starting spirit makes Vermont especially well-equipped for a maker-centric economy. All that’s missing is a chance to interface with the new technologies.
“It’s easier to get behind on the technological forefront of things,” she said, describing Vermont’s predominantly rural setting. “But that’s where the economy is going. So, if we can take younger people and expose them to [technology] and build community events to convince them to stay in the area, then hopefully we can boost the economy,” said Hand. “That’s the whole thing behind this.”
Building Future Makers
The iterative process of designing, constructing, and revising a physical project in the real world requires concrete skills in problem solving, communication, and a range of other skills.
According to Ken Cadow, who works as director of career pathways and workforce development at Randolph Union High School, acquiring these skills allows students to engage their passions in situations both in the classroom and beyond.
“Kids get to take a lot of their own ideas and really learn the design process,” said Cadow. “You can keep on tweaking something to keep it current and make it better and better. For the kids that can continue to do that and improve a project—this might be a good career for them,” he said.
Cadow also says that exposing students to the skills required for maker-related fields helps to prime them for success during a foundational time in their education.
If students “can see a clear path, they build up a lot more momentum in their education, they’re a lot more likely to stick with it,” said Cadow as he proudly displayed a series of handmade circuits assembled by RUHS students.
“The more we can inform them on what they might like to do while their education is free through public high school,” said Cadow, “the more likely they are to find something that they’re really passionate about when they start forking over the big [bucks] if they go to college,” laughed Cadow.