New supervisor in Fairfield MakerSpace has ambitious plans for the facility

A student works in the wood-working portion of the Fairfield MakerSpace.
A student works in the wood-working portion of the Fairfield MakerSpace.

FAIRFIELD - Maharishi International University hosts in its library the Fairfield MakerSpace, a place where members of the public can hone their skills on all manner of things such as wood and metal working, sewing shop and bicycle repair.

In January, MIU student David Ford took on the task of managing the wood and metal shops. Ford has some ambitious ideas for the maker space, such as opening it to middle and high school students in the community. In particular, he wants to bring what is known as an “MIT FabLab” to Fairfield.

Ford explained that the FabLab is short for a fabrication laboratory that is managed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Bits and Atoms. A FabLab is equipped with an array of flexible computer-controlled tools that cover various sizes and materials, with the goal of allowing people to create “almost anything.”

“The concept of the FabLab movement is closely tied to the do-it-yourself movement, maker culture, and the free and open-source movement,” Ford said. “Most of the FabLabs in the US are tied or associated with colleges and Universities. We are wanting to make our FabLab unique in that it will be open to the community (as an extension of the Makers Space) with a concentration on the kids in the middle and high schools.”

Ford said he hopes the FabLab will introduce kids to STEM careers, and take what they’re learning in the classroom and apply it to solving real-world problems.

“Imagine a situation where you are learning about buoyancy or flight and you can go directly from the classroom to the lab where you can fabricate a boat or plane and then test your designs,” he said. “I think it’s important to expose the kids to ideas and concepts then give them the chance to build those ideas before they get to college.”

How is MIT involved? Ford said MIT manages the network, and occasionally has online classes as well as experts who can do video conferences to give advice.

“My goal is to bring together a cooperative of the city, the school system, FEDA, businesses, and MIU to the table,” he said. “No one single entity has control or a vote over the project. Everyone contributes equally and has a voice.”

Ford is also working on raising money so that the Fairfield Maker Space can compete in a contest known as Make 48. The competition takes place every year across the country, and the finals are filmed for a television show that airs on PBS. Ford said the maker space needs to raise $25,000 to be considered.

“The benefit to the MakerSpace and city of Fairfield is exposure, while we may not end up on TV they do film segments from the individual cities for use during the finals,” he said. “Also, there are the sponsors that donate equipment to the MakerSpaces. The Makers Spaces get to keep the equipment after the competition. The teams that compete in the competition come from all over the US, and this could be a way to showcase Fairfield to the rest of Iowa and the country.”

Ford said the MakerSpace is run by all volunteers. The sewing shop is run by Pam Ryerse, and the MakerSpace does have a bike shop, though it’s not operational at the moment because they don’t have a volunteer to run it. Ford said the MakerSpace is looking to add an electronics/energy shop.

“It is still very much a community workspace where people can come and brush up on skills or learn new ones. I have had people from the Fairfield Community as well as MIU students and staff using my workspaces,” Ford said.

Ford said his job as director of the wood and metal shop is to teach those who need help.

“I have had people build bookcases, repair a futon bed frame, lots of shelves for plants, some raised garden beds, toolboxes, a guitar stand, cutting boards, business signs, pretty much anything they can think of,” he said. “We are still hoping to have kids Saturday this summer, kids as young as 5 and as old as 10 can come in with a parent and pick out a toy kit, do some real basic sanding, painting and assemble then take their toy home with them. It’s a way to introduce some new skills to a child that might not otherwise have the opportunity to craft something, plus it’s a great confidence builder for these kids.”