Bringing the “Fab” to Utqiagvik

CITC partners with BP Alaska and North Slope Borough School District to create STEM opportunities for students

CITC partnered with BP Alaska to establish a "mini Fab Lab" in Barrow, Alaska.

CITC partnered with BP Alaska to establish a “mini Fab Lab” in Utqiagvik, Alaska. The lab, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, will allow North Slope Borough School District teachers to share previously out-of-reach STEM education with their students. Here, BP Alaska Community Investment Director Tamera Lienhart (left) watches as a student creates a project on a Fab Lab laptop.

“Barrow gets some serious wind — yup, it’s cold,” reported CITC Instructor Larry Walton after his first visit to northernmost city in December 2016. “Even when the sun is out, it’s one of the cloudiest places on earth. And it has lots of polar bears.”

Now, Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) has one more cool thing:  its own Fab Lab.

In 2013, CITC launched its most exciting project yet — the Fabrication Laboratory, or Fab Lab, a creative space where CITC participants could use technology to make their design dreams come true. Since then, the Fab Lab has served as a venue for a variety of programs and activities, most of them focused on our youth and meant to trigger and develop students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

“The Fab Lab is a place for exploration and learning, and it piques students’ interest in STEM,” explained Kelly Hurd, CITC’s senior director of development. “The hope is that their interest might one day lead to a career in science or engineering. Alaska has historically struggled to meet demand for workers in the STEM fields, so if we can connect our youth participants to this growing area, that gives them great opportunities after high school and beyond.”

Mini Fab Lab

It is that need for engineers and other STEM workers that sparked the newest iteration of the Fab Lab: Meet the Mini Fab Lab, a compact, semi-portable fabrication laboratory, located in Utqiagvik, that enables North Slope Borough School District (NSBSD) teachers to share previously out-of-reach STEM education with their students.

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Students use new technology, made available by CITC and BP Alaska, to create STEM-based projects in Utqiagvik, Alaska.

The project is funded by BP Alaska, which prioritizes bringing increased education opportunities to the regions in which it works.

“This program gives BP a unique opportunity to be the leading resource in STEM education training for students in Utqiagvik and surrounding villages,” said Tamera Lienhart, director of BP Alaska Community Investment. “Our Alaska operations are based on the North Slope, so we consider the communities in that region our neighbors. As a third generation Alaskan myself, I’m honored to be a part of encouraging youth to pursue a higher education and ultimately being able to work and live in Alaska.”

The NSBSD Fab Lab has many of the same pieces of technology visitors can find at the CITC Fab Lab: 3D milling machines, full spectrum laser cutters, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, laptops with 3D mice, and a handheld 3D scanner.

Training the Trainers

An NBSD student shows off a project, bearing the BP Alaska and CITC logos, she made using laser marquetry at the Barrow Mini Fab Lab.

An NSBSD student shows off a project, bearing the BP Alaska and CITC logos, she made using a laser cutter at the Utqiagvik Mini Fab Lab.

CITC staffers Larry Walton, Katie Lee, and Steven Fett accompanied the equipment north in December to help set up the new lab, then held a “train the trainer” session with NSBSD teachers. A follow-up trip in February allowed CITC staff to troubleshoot any machine issues NSBSD staff had discovered in the interim and to provide additional support.

“The Barrow staff were motivated, knowledgeable, and anything but timid about their new technology,” said Walton. “We were able to leave the new lab in great, fully functional shape, in the hands of enthusiastic, dedicated, and capable people.”

“There will be a learning curve for them, as there are so many kinds of software for all the different machines, but I’m sure they will have their students making in no time,” added CITC Fab Lab Co-Manager Katie Lee.

In addition to the mini-lab in Utqiagvik, this partnership between CITC and BP Alaska also funds a second small Fab Lab at the school in Point Lay.

A Future of Possibilities

Both Fab Labs will help level the playing field for rural Alaska Native students, said CITC Director of Youth Empowerment Services Renee Fredericks: “There’s a real mismatch between the potential of Alaskan youth and their achievement in STEM subjects, especially among Alaska Native student in rural districts, which are often less able to offer extracurricular opportunities to expand students’ skill sets. This project is focused on addressing those disparities and helping Alaska Native youth reach their potential.”

CITC expects its new partnership with the NSBSD district to nurture a connection between urban and rural students and staff. In addition to providing ongoing support to the NSBSD Fab Lab and its staff, CITC has committed to engage in distance collaboration between its own lab and NSBSD’s, so that rural and urban students can share ideas, talk about challenges and solutions, and develop projects via distance education equipment.

CITC Director of Youth Empowerment Renee Fredericks, BP Alaska Director of Community Investment Tamera Lienhart, and Mark show off a piece of baleen that has been carved with laser marquetry in the Barrow Mini Fab Lab.

CITC Director of Youth Empowerment Renee Fredericks, BP Alaska Director of Community Investment Tamera Lienhart, and Mark Nance, NSBSD Education Technology Coordinator, show off a piece of baleen that has been carved with a laser cutter in the Utqiagvik Mini Fab Lab.

Other future applications of the NSBSD Fab Lab include the lab’s use as a “regional hub,” with staff traveling to surrounding villages to provide STEM learning opportunities; a rural-urban exchange program hosted by CITC and involving a week-long Fab Lab intensive; and travel between NSBSD and Anchorage to provide youth enhanced STEM education.

“We’re so grateful for BP Alaska’s funding and their commitment to STEM education for Alaska Native students,” said Hurd.

To learn more about the Fab Lab, check out our Youth Empowerment Services page. Interested in how your company can support CITC education programs? Learn about the Alaska Education Tax Credit incentive here, or contact Kelly Hurd at khurd@citci.org or (907) 793-3272.