Individual Inspiration

Graphic arts. Landscape architecture. Church youth leader. Native artist. Fashion designer. The people who work in CITC’s Fab Lab have backgrounds as varied as they are — and that’s what makes the Fab Lab what it is.

A Fab Lab instructor helps a student with a soldering project. The interests of Fab Lab staff inspire the camps and STEM projects they offer to students.

“You don’t have to have an education or engineering degree to work here, as long as you’re adaptable, creative, and willing to continue to learn,” said Grace Coles, Fab Lab Operations Supervisor. “Every instructor has a completely different background, and that really influences the kinds of projects we do.”

Do What Interests You

Fab Lab Instructor Brian Schuch shared his interest in outdoor activities during Fishing and Foraging Camp.

Fab Lab staff is responsible for creating culturally informed, STEM-based experiences that allow students to explore and experiment. Working with tools like 3D printers, robotic router systems, laser-power cutters, computer-based design programs, sewing machines, and more, students transform their ideas into reality.

In addition to offering its own camps and activities, the Fab Lab also supports CITC’s afterschool program, The Schoolyard, and hosts students from schools like Airport Heights Elementary and Central Middle School that are home to CITC’s in-school programs.

This summer, Fab Lab instructors like Brian Schuch led activities that incorporated their own interests: For Fishing and Foraging Camp, held in May, Brian showed campers how to harvest birch bark and took them hooligan fishing at 20 Mile River near Portage. Back in the Lab, campers made their own nets and designed screen-printed T-shirts, creating graphics with a vinyl cutter.

Meanwhile, third- through sixth-graders built traditional drums and learned about modern and traditional music during this summer’s music camp.

Culturally Inspired

In addition to working with students at camps and for daily activities, Fab Lab staff works directly with 14 local and rural schools. This fall, instructors will install mini “maker” spaces in five new schools in addition to provide support and activities to the nine schools already hosting maker spaces. Staff also provides training for all CITC-employed teachers who are placed in local schools.

Fab Lab instructors also support in-school programming, including leading special STEM activities, providing mini “maker” spaces to some schools, and hosting visiting students in the lab.

“A huge amount of energy is focused on our partner schools and on providing STEM activities that are aligned with Alaska Native culture,” Grace said. “Sometimes it’s hard for teachers to bring hands-on learning into the classroom in an organic way. Our maker spaces open up the opportunity for students to choose their own adventure in learning through the activities they do.”

This year, a big part of the Fab Lab’s work is helping students feel more connected after a year of COVID isolation. To help with that, staff is letting culture guide more than just hands-on activities; they are incorporating cultural values and practices even in the introductions they do, the curricula they develop, and the way daily operations happen in the Fab Lab.

“For learning to happen, it’s important that kids feel connected,” Grace said. “You can’t learn if you’re not in a safe space.”

“I Can Do This”

Students made their own fishing nets using Fab Lab equipment during Fishing and Foraging Camp this summer.

In the Fab Lab, students from schools all over Anchorage log a cumulative 1,900 hours each year doing STEM-based projects in exactly the kind of safe space Grace envisions for quality learning. Some, like Lab Assistant Jaxon Briggs, even go on to work in the Fab Lab.

While not every student becomes a CITC employee, all of the youth served by the Fab Lab get to grow the science-based, problem-solving skills and experience using technology that set them up to be the next generation of engineers, artists, and innovators.

And it’s the Fab Lab instructors who inspire them.

“When we merge culture, STEM, art, and learning, students grow confidence—they feel like I can do this because they’ve grown those problem solving skills,” Grace said.

“It’s not a traditional work setting,” she added. “We’ve had different staff with different backgrounds through the years, and their interests really determine the projects we do. Working in the Fab Lab really enhances staffs’ identities.”

Want to use your background and interests to inspire the next generation of makers? Apply for a job at the Fab Lab!