Makers of Change

Stephanie Santoso
Mar 9, 2016 · 9 min read

How Makers Create Change

This piece is part of a series highlighting the work and stories of Makers across the U.S in the run up to National Week of Making, June 17–23, 2016

By: Stephanie Santoso, Sherry Lassiter and Dale Dougherty

Last year, 16-year old Ayoade Balogun, along with several other high school students, created the MESA Summer Bridge Program. This summer camp program introduced middle school girls to design and engineering by working on a project to help their community in Central Virginia. Over the course of 3 months, Ayoade put together the plans and curriculum for the camp and gathered the support and funding needed for the project. That summer, Ayoade worked with middle school girls to build a bridge that would make it easier and safer for people to traverse an area of the Rivanna Trail in need of repair. Ayoade’s inspiration for the Bridge Program was a similar camp she attended when she was younger that made her realize she could work on solutions to problems that she really cared about. She wanted to make sure that other girls would have the same opportunity to become innovators, problem-solvers and Makers.

Ayoade Balogun wants all girls to experience what it’s like to design and build things. Photo: Amy
Building the bridge on the Rivanna Trail. Photo: Aisha Balogun

Like Ayoade, many Makers across the U.S. and around the world are coming together to do something to help someone they care about. Fueled by the development of low-cost tools and technologies that allow for prototyping and digital fabrication, Makers see the technology as an enabler for more students and adults to bring their ideas to life. Yet the Maker Movement is really about the Makers and what they do. Making is social and collaborative, while also promoting self-empowerment. Realizing that you can create, modify and improve the world around you is as much about community as it is about the Maker. A thriving maker space or Fab Lab must have a group of people who are passionate about sharing what they know. More and more, we are seeing Makers take on challenges to use their knowledge and skills to improve the lives of others in their community.

Last year, President Obama proclaimed a National Week of Making in June.

He articulated, “Makers and builders and doers — of all ages and backgrounds — have pushed our country forward, developing creative solutions to important challenges and proving that ordinary Americans are capable of achieving the extraordinary when they have access to the resources they need.”

National Week of Making 2016 was announced by the White House today. Makers in the U.S. from different backgrounds are doing amazing things to help those in their community and those in other communities in the U.S. and abroad as well. What we’ve seen is that innovation and problem-solving knows no boundaries- age, race and socioeconomic background are irrelevant. Yet, those without access to the resources they need to become Makers and the training to practice those skills will struggle to participate in the Maker Movement. We need everyone making change, however.

One of the most powerful things we can do for the next generation is to show children that they have the power to change, mold and improve the world we live in. Rather than accepting the status quo, Makers tinker and experiment in the hope that something better comes out of it. Making can be a critical part of civic engagement and we’ve seen how Makers are developing solutions to address issues of crime or social injustice taking place in their communities.

Here are exemplary projects that demonstrate the power of Makers to create change.

Assemble is a community space for arts and technology in Pittsburgh. The space is located in Garfield, an underserved neighborhood of the city. In 2014, the shooting death of a 17-year-old in Nelson Mandela Peace Park, located around the corner from Assemble, shook the community. Like many of the kids in the neighborhood, one group of girls at Assemble were afraid to go to the park, especially at night. Instead of staying afraid, they decided they wanted to do something to make the park safer and feel more welcoming. The result was a prototype model they created which included sensor based lighting that would turn on when someone would walk onto the park grounds and audio that would welcome visitors.

Working on the design with a Makey Makey. Photo: Assemble
Several of the young Makers who worked on the playground project with their prototype. Photo: Assemble

The Enable Community Foundation is making the design, delivery and distribution of custom upper-limb prosthetics more accessible. It matches Makers with 3D printers with people in need. High school students from St. Margaret’s Upper School in California 3D printed and built a mechanical hand for seven-year old Jazmyn Bueno and delivered it in time for Christmas.

Jazmyn celebrates her new mechanical hand built by St. Margaret’s Upper School students. Photo: Enable Community Foundation

Knight High School students in Palmdale, California are part of an engineering academy that has had a school maker space for about 3 years now. James Stockdale, a teacher at the academy, said that the maker space “has really changed the face of how we do project-based learning in our school and I now couldn’t imagine teaching without it.” He said while they have been growing their maker space, they have tried to include a model for service as well. The school sent 3 groups to Nicaragua last year to build solar arrays on community schools in remote villages in the rain-forest. Students were able to be part of providing power to villages that previously had to travel for hours just to charge a cell phone.

“The experience for the involved students was profound,” said Stockdale.

In Amman Jordan, 3DMENA and Fab Lab Makers have designed an open-source echolocation device with haptic feedback to help blind refugees like Ahmad navigate comfortably in the world.

Ahmad’s response to the pilot test, “I haven’t walked like this in 2 years!”

Ahmad tests his echolocation device designed by 3DMENA and Fab Lab Makers. Photo: 3DMENA

Emergency relief organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are beginning to tap the Maker community for innovations in emergency response through the Global Humanitarian Lab (GHL) project. GHL is a promising example of a partnership within the humanitarian sector to explore the potential of new fabrication technologies and community-driven workshops. GHL will leverage projects like Glia, that uses the global creative power of Makers here in the U.S. and around the world to innovate and produce high quality, free, open-source medical hardware, making it more accessible to those in need.

3D Printed Stethoscope from GliaX project. Photo: GliaX

Shelter 2.0, created by Bill Young and Robert Bridges, is a transitional shelter fabricated using a CNC mill and assembled by the local community after the earthquake in Haiti. Shelter 2.0 is about sharing designs and ideas, making them available to anyone who needs them, when they need them. Workers on the project are learning new livelihood skills while improving their communities’ quality of life.

Shelter 2.0 in Haiti. Photo: Shelter 2.0

Last year, more than 450 Makers from across the U.S. participated in Veterans Affairs’ Prosthetics and Assistive Technology Challenge, focused on crowdsourcing open-source solutions to healthcare challenges identified by Veterans, such as creating a device that can dampen tremors when someone is performing fine motor tasks. Veterans like former Army Sergeant Lisa Marie Wiley collaborated with Makers to prototype solutions to help make everyday life easier for Veterans like herself. After stepping on an IED while serving in Afghanistan in 2011, Lisa has been using a variety of prosthetics for different purposes such as running, walking and wearing heels. Changing a prosthetic is a time consuming process and on average takes 20 minutes. Lisa’s team designed a coupling device designed to make it easier and more convenient for lower limb amputees like Lisa to change their prosthetics.

Lisa Marie Wiley talks about her experience at the VA in Richmond. Photo: Steven Goetsch

Red de Acción Comunitaria is an open-source early warning system developed and supported by Fab Labs in San Salvador. Using open-source designs and inexpensive electronic components, the system creates a network connecting villages, allowing them to alert each other to dangerous weather conditions. The system also registers temperature, acts as a seismograph (thanks to an accelerometer), and can connect to other data capture devices.

Red de Acción Comunitaria is an open-source early warning system. Photo: Red de Acción Comunitaria

Tikkun Olam Makers organize “makeathons” to bring together Makers and “need knowers.” During last year’s 72-hour Bay Area Makeathon at Tech Shop San Francisco, Makers, artists, designers, engineers teamed up with differently abled individuals to develop everything from an affordable medicine grinder and a device to ease the process of getting out of a wheelchair, to software to translate sign language to text.

Prototyping at the Bay Area Makeathon. Photo: Dale Dougherty

At North Carolina Central University, a team of students designed a device that looks like a piece of jewelry. In fact, it’s a safety alert system that can be worn by students and faculty on the campus. It has a GPS system that locates the wearer and simultaneously sends a signal to the campus police and the local police at the press of a button. This project was part of the HBCU Making for Change Showcase, an initiative aimed at supporting students developing innovative solutions to community based problems.

A fashionable security band that sends a signal to the campus police at the press of a button. Photo: North Carolina Central University

Making can be a way to strengthen a community by celebrating its rich cultural history and fostering inter-generational relationships. In Anchorage, the Cook Inlet Tribal Council Fab Lab provides opportunities for Alaska Native and American Indian youth to learn about the traditional making of their ancestors married with digital design and fabrication. At the Fab Lab, instructors, along with elders, teach middle school students how mukluks, kayaks and sleds were traditionally made. Students also have the opportunity to learn how to craft these items using laser cutting, 3D printing and CNC milling.

A laser scrimshaw made at the Cook Inlet Tribal Council Fab Lab. Photos: Neil Gershenfeld Lab and Nadya Peek
Student Ben Hunter-Francis displays the sled model he created. Photo: Fab Lab CITC

The National Week of Making 2016 will take place June 17th-23rd and will include the National Maker Faire in Washington D.C. and events hosted by Fab Labs and maker spaces across the U.S. The Week is an opportunity for Makers in cities and towns around the country to look at how to combine their talents for the good of the community.

If you were inspired by reading about these Makers, here are four ways that you could help drive more action in your own community. Making change is a collective effort. Ayoade was able to create the MESA Summer Bridge Camp because she had encouragement from caring teachers and the support of local businesses and organizations. The Bay Area Makeathon was supported by in addition to a host of other groups.

  1. Support local maker spaces, Fab Labs and other groups, many of which are non-profits with limited resources. Support can include everything from providing seed funding for projects, grants for a program and ongoing funds for operations to volunteering your time as a mentor or workshop instructor.
  2. Create a Maker-In-Residence position at your organization or support a Maker-In-Residence for an organization that needs one. A Maker-In-Residence at a school can help teachers integrate more hands-on learning experiences into the school day.
  3. Organize local Makeathons that bring together groups of Makers to work together with individuals with specific needs.
  4. Contribute to crowdfunding programs for local Makers with good ideas.

And as you meet the Makers in your community who are making a difference, thank them.

Stephanie Santoso is a Maker and was the first Senior Advisor for Making at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Sherry Lassiter is the President of the Fab Foundation and one of the architects of the MIT global Fab Lab program.

Dale Dougherty is the CEO of Maker Media, Creator of Maker Faire and Founder of MAKE Magazine.

A Nation of Makers

The stories and experiences of Makers across the U.S.

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