Increasing STEM Engagement Through Communal Fabrication Lab Facilities

Saturday, 15 February 2014
Columbus KL (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Rabiah Mayas , Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL
The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago is home to a Fab Lab, one of approximately 200 such digital fabrication laboratories in a global network organized by the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT.  Housed within the Museum’s Center for the Advancement of Education, the Fab Lab’s primary focus is to democratize access to the tools of design, engineering and innovation through a suite of educational programs for diverse audiences. Of particular note, the Fab Lab is both the only Museum physical space and programming initiative focused specifically on engineering-based learning. Importantly, the machinery and processes in Fab Lab are identical to – not models or facsimiles of – the real-world manufacturing and fabrication industries, and the design software used is largely free and often open-source.

The ability to conceive an idea, develop a design by computer, and ultimately create a physical manifestation of that idea is a powerful - and often new - opportunity for youth, particularly those from populations without meaningful access to quality STEM learning experiences. The Museum has recently completed an 18-month period of program prototyping in the Fab Lab and we will discuss our successes and challenges in reaching several target populations in the Chicago area, with a focus on under-resourced schools and communities.  We will also share how strategic partnerships with community anchors such as public libraries, community-based organizations, and public schools have facilitated broader and deeper connections to our youth.