Inside Fab Lab ICC: Interview with Jim Correll and Tim Haynes

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Dan: Welcome to the mortar board, your source for solutions in higher education. I’m Dan Barwick. Welcome to the podcast. This podcast is sponsored by Magnolia Scents By Design, the world’s best-smelling scents shop, selling artisanally handcrafted natural candles, soaps and body products. Founded and headquartered in independence, Kansas, they’ve grown to two micro-factory retail locations as well as reaching a national market through their website, www dot magnoliascents dot com. Magnolia Scents has a passion to provide fantastically scented, small-batch handmade products with the smallest carbon footprint possible. I can personally attest to their products. I use their soap every morning in my shower and my wife burns their beautifully-smelling candles every evening in our home. Thank you to Magnolia Scents by design. So I’ve got the two bosses of the Fab Lab here with me today, Tim Hanes and Jim Correll. Jim Correll is, I guess his official title is, Jim, tell me…

Jim Correll: Director, director of Fab Lab ICC,

Dan: Director of Fab lab, ICC and Tim Hanes?

Tim: I am the Fab Lab manager. Jim Is my boss.

Dan: (Laughs) He’s like, “just want to make that relationship clear there.” (Tim laughs.) So this is kind of a wild place. Not two minutes ago, Jim poked his head in the door and said, “either one of you guys got away to light a fire?” So neither one of us did, so I don’t know what he did and I don’t know why the person wanted to light a fire. In the last podcast, I told you all about Fab Lab ICC and their work with local entrepreneurs and the mindset here, but I thought you might like to hear it from the horse’s mouth. So I’ve got the two horses here and you’re going to hear it from their mouths. So my first question for you is this, you know, I’ve claimed that the Fab Lab is successful, but how do you measure its success?

Jim Correll: Well, we measure it by the reactions we see when people come in and learn how to do things that they didn’t think they were able to do, but just the fact that we’ve had probably going on 21 or 22,000 visits on the four and a half years we’ve been open I think, is kind of an indicator and we’ve had, you know, three or four entrepreneurs that have started out working in the Fab lab and then gotten so busy that they bought their own equipment and went out on their own. So I guess success is on a lot of different levels because we deal with a lot of, yeah, different types of users from k through 12 kids up through a few college students and then the community members and entrepreneurs.

Tim Haynes: I’ll add that it’s also in the number of lives changed and that doesn’t always, that doesn’t always take, a form that that lends itself well to statistics or numbers. A lot of that is anecdotal. A lot of that is just what you feel when you interact with someone and they, finally, grow some wings and learn to kind of fly in the Fab Lab a little bit, do things on their own, maybe for the first time they’ve never done before. I mean there’s a number of ways we could measure success that aren’t easy to track. There are high schools that come on field trips here from hours away, and then there are high schools who don’t come on field trips here that are 15 minutes away. How do you measure that success? You know, the word is getting out really far and yet still sometimes it feels like it’s difficult to make inroads. I don’t know how to reconcile those.

Dan: Well, you know, it’s fascinating. Of course, I’m hearing your answers to my questions for the first time, but both of you when I asked you the question about how you measured the success of the Fab lab, both of you talked in terms of the people that you were impacting. So in the original podcast about Fab Lab ICC, I talked about how it wasn’t the sexy machines, it was the way that you were interacting with people. And I noticed that even though, for example, you guys just built an addition onto this place that more than doubled the size of the place, not one of you mentioned that as a measure of your success. Not one of you mentioned the donations you have received or anything like that. Your answer from both of you was 100 percent about the people that you’re working with. And that’s what I noticed from your answer.

Jim Correll: I think we have, we may both have a different way of looking at that because for us, the kind of the number one goal is to change the way people think. And even to change a few lives here and there, and I think one of the reasons that the donations have come in and that the building has been built is just because when other people see that when they, when they see a bunch of kids in here and see how they’re engaged and they come alive, they liked that and they’ll donate money for it. So yes, it’s been really phenomenal. The amount of money that we’ve had donated and that we were able to put this new building up, but we still kind of think of it in terms of the human element and how we changed the way people view themselves.

Tim Haynes: Yeah, very much so. I think it’s sometimes intimidating to see just all the space unless somebody is using it because it’s not always easy to visualize yourself. I’m utilizing all the resources here. If you don’t see anyone else doing that, I think sometimes it takes a little bit of a visual stimulus, a little bit of a model. Somebody that’s doing a process or interacting with a machine or even some software in order to see that yes, it’s possible and people are using the Fab Lab to do what they need to do and even if they don’t know how to do it today, they can learn because somebody else learned and many people have in the past here.

Dan: Well, speaking of many people, let me give you an opportunity. What success story of the lab is most significant to you?

Tim Haynes: For me, it’s probably the high school student who was coming here for summer, basically summer school, a couple summers, and finally decided to launch a little side business, laser etching, and has become successful enough that he’s considering doing that full time. He’s also a college student, has graduated high school and moved on to Pitt State, but we still see him back here regularly. He still stays engaged with us and really has, he always was going to be successful. But I think his vision of what success means for him is a little different after coming to the Fab Lab.

Dan: Jim?

Jim Correll:  I think one of mine is probably the salon owner downtown that didn’t know anything about fabrication equipment or any of that. She knew how to do hair and nails and she has said that and she learned how to do enough to construct her own sign for above her awning downtown. And now she’s re-done all her vinyls and, and she almost tears up a little bit when she talks about that. And so seeing that increase in self-confidence and people as they’ve, as they learned to do things. And in this case it’s a small business owner who saved quite a bit of money, like probably thousands, a few thousand dollars by doing that work herself. That’s pretty powerful for me.

Tim Haynes: And I’ll just, I’ll just kind of add to what Jim said. It’s really cool for us as the director and the manager of the Fab Lab to be able to share in these case studies. It’s almost never the case that I will interact with somebody in isolation. And Jim won’t interact with them or vice versa, that Jim will interact with somebody and I won’t. It’s very rarely the case that one of us gets to enjoy success with a member or a Fab Lab user in some capacity, and the other one won’t get to share in that success story. We get to do both. And so I think we get to high five a lot when it comes to that sort of thing. And that that charges us up.

Dan: That does sound pretty cool. Now one thing I did not talk about in the last fab lab was that, so I’ve been to plenty of other fab and I know you have to, but there’s in terms of the amount of time that a lab focuses on the different parts of what it does, there’s something disproportionate about this fab lab, which is that it appears to me you spend far more time than most fab labs procreating and trying to create new fab labs elsewhere, new maker spaces. So you know, you have these boot camps where these people come in from other communities and learn about how to put a maker space in their community and you’re very focused on that. And I just, I think I’d like you to talk about maybe two things. One, all of us have sort of observed how other communities struggle to put in maker spaces and two, I guess I’d like to talk about why you feel so focused on helping other people create maker spaces rather than focusing on just this one.

Jim Correll: Well, I’ll lead off and then I’m sure Tim will have something to add. We learned about the combination of entrepreneurial thinking and the making itself, and what a powerful tool that can be an encouraging entrepreneurship in a small town. All these rural communities across America are shrinking and nobody can seem to figure out what to do to reverse that. For 50 years we’ve told the youth of these communities, I have to go somewhere else to have opportunities. And yet we see that in most of the community there’s still people with money. They still have problems to solve and there’s still room for small businesses to start. And so once we learn what a powerful combination, the entrepreneurship and the maker space was, we started believing that every rural community to have one, and it’s not just the equipment, but it’s the sort of comradery and the increase in self advocacy that everybody gets working and it’s almost a way to build community pride. And so as we discovered that on our own, we became passionate about trying to help other communities figure out how to start maker spaces. And then we’re very privileged because Network Kansas, which is a remarkable story in itself, is a unique program among the United States for promoting entrepreneurship within Kansas. They see what we’ve done here and they’ve made us one of their certified programs. So I’m there helping us try to spread this, how to do this around a Kansas.

Tim Haynes: And I’ll think, I think that it’s really a movement that needs to go viral to a greater extent than it has. There are over 1600 Fab Labs that are part of the International Fab Lab network right now and there are other private maker spaces that aren’t part of that network. We happened to be a part of that network. We are one of the 1600, when we first started our Fab Lab, I think that count was around 600 globally. So it’s, it’s grown by leaps and bounds just in the four years that we’ve been open. But, there is no glory in it necessarily for us personally. There’s just this imperative for us to remain sort of mission-driven and our mission really is to spread innovation and hope, among the other activities that we do to achieve those goals, and to fulfill that mission. And part of that mission, involves spreading it far and wide. How can we really spread it far and wide just on our own? You know, it would make a whole lot more sense for us too, for the Fab labs to go viral in our region. And so we show people how we did it in, in, in the hope that they might be able to replicate our success at some scale and, and also to communicate just how little it really takes to start a fab lab. You don’t have to do it the way that we did it. There are many ways to do it. And none of those ways have to be exceedingly expensive or time consuming.

Dan: Can you tell us a little bit about that? I mean, what is sort of the bare minim you could do in order to create a maker space?

Tim Haynes: I guess, I guess I’ll kind of let Jim weigh in on that. I think it doesn’t take a whole lot of equipment. Maybe one or two affordable machines, maybe a 3D printer, maybe a laser, and really just a space borrowed or, otherwise temporarily occupied.

Jim Correll: I would agree with that. The 3D printers are whatever everybody wants in a maker space and they actually aren’t as creative as a bunch of the other machines. But they are affordable especially now. And then the laser is one of the most popular machine, so I’ve told people…

Dan: Can you just tell people what this laser does?

Jim Correll: The laser – the ones that we have and the ones that are affordable are not big industrial lasers that will cut through quarter inch plate steel, but these will cut nonmetallic materials like wood and leather and acrylic and then they a laser etch or burn basically designs and letters and things into the service so they can cut shapes out and burn letters and artwork into services. And that’s what makes them so popular that the computer treats them sort of like a printer. And so it’s a little bit more complicated than learning to print something, but it’s not, it’s not as complicated as learning to use some of the other machines. So we tell small communities, many of the small communities still have a library. So we them that for let’s say $20,000 even they could put a laser in a 3D printer in the local library. And that gets started. And then now a quick story of a woman in western Kansas. And I’m in a town called jet more and this is a problem and in a lot of communities people think that maker spaces or just were geeks go to make stuff so they don’t. They don’t see the, the potential. It has an effect on everybody. So she came to our boot camp and she went back to her small town, which is probably only I think three or 4,000 people and she started telling everybody they need a maker space and everybody was saying, well what is that and who would use it? So then she bought a couple of pieces of equipment, I think Network Kansas actually helped her do that. She bought a couple of pieces of equipment and then she had a little boot camp for some youth in the summer in that little town. Now the youth are all on fire and that fire is spreading to the parents. And so people are starting to get it, and that they don’t even have a space yet. But they just did it in the local rec center I think or something. We’re going to add that to our strategy because people won’t know what it is and getting the kids started on it is a way to help that spread. And I got one last week. I get a lot of inquiries from community colleges around the United States that want to put in a maker space, or many times they’ll say we want to partner with our city to put in a maker space, and then they say they’re going to do a community needs assessment. And I have to figure out a way tactfully to say I’m not sure that’ll be very helpful because in most communities they’re not gonna know what you’re talking about. So they’re not going to know what kind of equipment they’ll want, because they don’t even know what a maker space is. And the one that I talked to most recently was in Wyoming I think. In Kansas, most of the communities don’t know what maker spaces are, but I know that that’s pretty common and maybe that’ll change over the years. But, people that do want know what maker spaces are, tend to think, they’re just for the sort of Geeky nerds, and they’re really not, they’re really for everybody.

Tim Haynes: And even if you think you have a good idea of what a maker space is, it’s also possible that if you’re trying to start a maker space, you may think there’s a certain set of criteria. What defines a maker space? And moreover, what defines the people who use or the people who work at a maker space? I didn’t know what a maker space was really when I started working at the Fab lab. And , you know, now looking back, I can see it didn’t matter that I didn’t know really what a maker’s space was. You figure it out as you go. And I think what value we bring to the community, what value we bring to ICC, to the region of southeast Kansas has changed over the years too. And that’s okay. I think that’s the way it should be. What it shows is that we’re not static or dynamic. We’re continuing to adapt. And effectively we are, we are adapting to become more closely aligned with what people want us to do.

Dan:  Speaking of being dynamic and changing, so I know that with the new addition you’ll have here, we’ll have a lot of new capabilities, but what’s something that you don’t have that you really want, in the best possible world? If you could have, say any single new machine, what would it be?

Jim Correll: Well there’s a whole list of stuff also. My ideas maybe, and then Tim will have his ideas too, but we came pretty close to getting a 3D metal printer in a grant a couple of years ago. And that is one that can make some fairly structurally strong metal parts, in the same way that the common 3D printers make them out of plastic. And if we had one of those…

Dan: A machine like that, what kind of metal is it printing with?

Jim Correll: The one that we were going to get could use different kinds. I believe it’s called a laser centering 3D printer, I believe, is how they refer to it, and it uses powdered metal and lays the powder down in layers and then uses the laser that goes around and welds the layers together. And so there are several different kinds of metal that could be done on that one.

Tim Haynes: You can get different compounds. I think some of the more common ones are compounds like bronze, just basically because those can be powdered relatively easily and they can be fused at a relatively stable temperature and a stable rate. I think that’s really what it comes down to is the stability of those metal compounds.

Jim Correll:  Those are being used by jewelers in the jewelry industry a lot and have been used more an industry for industrial type parts too. So we would probably have a mix. So there’s some artistic things that can be done on a printer like that as well as some pretty sophisticated prototyping, I think.

Dan: Amazing. Well, you know, I’m thinking Tim said that bronze could be easily powdered and I’m thinking, I don’t know how you powder bronze. (laughs)

Jim Correll:  (laughs) And to be honest, I don’t either. Grind it, I guess.

Tim Haynes: You could grind it, that’s one of the ones I’ve seen, it’s hard to say that it’s common because metal 3D printers aren’t common, but they’re commercially out there. They’re commercially available and when you get on a website of a company that sells it, they will ultimately have a little shop area where they’ll sell containers of this powder and the quantities, the quantities are very small. 3D printing as such is maybe not anymore an emerging technology. But then there’s 3D printing plastic. There’s 3D printing, ceramics, 3D printing human tissue in an experimental setting , so there’s, there’s 3D printing and then there’s 3D printing. It’s not, it’s not a catchall term, or I suppose 3D printing is a catchall term, which actually when you break it down involves many different types of media that can be 3D printed.

Dan:  Okay. One last question for you guys. So close your eyes and imagine what is the Fab Lab look like in five years now? I say five years, but you know, if you’d prefer a different timeframe, 10 years, that’s okay too. I’m really just wondering what is the end-game here and you know, maybe if you’re ever-changing, as Tim said, you know, there’s, there’s no ultimate end game, but take a five year horizon. What do you hope to be offering them? What is the Fab lab look like?

Jim Correll: I’ll start, then Tim can weigh in, and we already just within the last month have had somebody with a pretty good size office say, “if you ever expand again, we would like to move our office and be a part of that.” So my five year vision and by the way, well it’s two things. We try not to have a firm vision because we want to stay flexible for the opportunities that come forward. But right now I could see a small, almost strip mall type of a building going up adjacent to the Fab Lab where we could have some retail spaces and possibly some office spaces because I think more people will want to be a part of this and be a part of this atmosphere that’s out here. And the other thing that I think would be cool is to have some container stores and container buildings. Like there’s a thing called the Box Yard in Tulsa, which is a whole small shopping center that’s made up of shipping containers and there’s many, many small shops and one of them is, has several of these put together and there’s a bar on the upper level and the restaurant. So that’s something that you could kind of move in and do experimental retail. And the other thing I’ll add is maybe a facility either here or somewhere else in town where once the business got their prototyping done and started selling, they’re selling their product. They would maybe have a place to go for another year or two. And then do manufacturing runs before they actually have to acquire a building and their own equipment and all that kind of stuff so they can do some light production runs in the fab lab, but eventually they run out of capacity. So if we had somewhere where we could move them for phase two, I think that’d be pretty cool.

Dan: Tim, would you like to describe a dream that completely conflicts with what Jim just told us? (laughs)

Tim Haynes: Nothing that conflicts, we try not to contradict each other when, when we can avoid it. In this case, I think his vision and mine can coincide quite nicely. My vision is that, you know, every day of the school week we are just flooded with schools, with k through 12 students who come in here for after school programs and they are, you know, more or less supervised, but really self-directed in the kinds of activities that they do out here. I’d like to have more, sort of hands on basic skills, like leather working more woodworking and I’m talking small scale stuff like bird houses and things like that. I’d love to have some sort of canned activities that are sort of modular, like for example, a shoe-making kit or a bird house kit or something that can be done in a sort of fixed amount of time. A lot of the projects out here are so free form, it’s very difficult and that’s not a bad thing, but it’s very difficult to see exactly how long it’s going to take to finish a project. And if we had some more activities and more offerings, like little kits, DIY kits, it might engage a different kind of person and it might help take the training wheels off of, of people’s creativity a little bit faster. If they could just get one or two successes under their belt. And I’d love to see more, more youth out here.

Jim Correll: That’s really good. And I’d like to add a couple things to that because I don’t remember if you covered it in your other podcast or not. But one of the things that we learned is not only the young people, but many of the adults too, they can’t do things with their hands. So this, the, our fab lab is not just for digital fabrication. Our fab lab always includes handwork too because the kids don’t know how to use hand tools and you’re still gonna have to be able to do those if you’re going to be very independent when you’re an adult. So all those things Tim just said, are good. And there’s another thing I’m going to predict that within five years the world of academia will have discovered and embraced the power of experiential learning. And that means that our fab lab and other fab labs as far as having tutoring centers and even a classes for homeschool kids where it’s all project based and people are learning their math and science to making things. Kids when they are on fire to make something they’re interested in will learn whatever they need to learn to make it work. And there’s a huge potential in that.

Tim Haynes: I’ll agree. It’s really a lot easier to teach any math concept really by application. And I think there’s some strong connection between a hands-on project where you’re actually using your and not necessarily just clicking a mouse and typing keys on a computer, but actually using your hands to craft something it, it helps those concepts really sink in. You know, one example is when I show somebody the software that runs our CNC plasma cutter, for example, there is an origin and they have to understand coordinate plane geometry in order to make that thing function. And they may hate geometry, but everybody enjoys cutting out a sign. Everybody enjoys making some plasma-cut metal art. So if you have to understand a little bit of coordinate plane geometry just to do a basic project, they will even enjoy it so much. Most of them that they will go to the next step and learn some more advanced concepts of geometry to make it a more advanced CNC Plasma-cut project. That is the way we ought to be teaching math concepts and it’s fun.

Jim Correll:  I might just add that there are, there are schools and classes around the country that have dumped the drilling and continuous practice for standardized testing and just turn the students loose with project based learning, and they not only were excited about it, but they did just as good or better on the standardized tests as the other kids who were stuck with drilling for them all the time. Anyway. So this making is really something that I think we’re just beginning to understand the way that it could promote learning.

Tim Haynes:  And it’s extremely uncomfortable, I think, for students who are steeped in a more traditional classroom learning environment where they’re told to sit down and be quiet and listen to the expert at the front of the room, tell them exactly what they need to know so that they can pass a test. Now we don’t do it here that way. And I think that it’s uncomfortable at first for students who were raised the other way or who have gone through the k-12 school system without much hands-on learning experience. But once they get a taste of how it’s different out here at the Fab lab, most of them will make sort of sidebar comments like, “man, I wish school were more like this.” And it begs the question, what if school were more like Fab lab? What if Fab Lab were school, some places are starting to get that, and other places aren’t? Ultimately, I think the future looks, looks quite a bit different. I think fab labs are the future of school. And we may come to a point in the future when schools that do it the traditional way, the old way, are just going to be left behind.

Dan:  Amazing guys, I’ve enjoyed this tremendously. If people want to get ahold of you, how do they do it? Maybe they want to learn how to put a fab lab where they live. Maybe they want to understand how they can come here and work here in this fab lab. How can they get ahold of you?

Jim Correll: I would say fab lab, ICC.org is our website and we give out a number. My number six two zero, two five, two, five, three, four, nine, but the website has that information on it and it has a way to contact us.

Tim Haynes: We’re also on Facebook. It’s just FablabICC and you can search for us on Facebook. You can send us a message and we will respond as quick as we possibly can.

Jim Correll: That’s a good way too, yes.

Dan:  Guys, this was fantastic. Thanks very much. Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you. Thanks for joining me. Please feel free to email me with questions at DanielBarwick at gmail.com, or suggestions for episode topics you’d like to hear about. If you’d like to hear about other topics I’m interested in, I publish a blog once a month at mortarboardblog.com. You can also like me on Facebook at Dr. Daniel Barwick. Thanks again to Magnolia Scents By Design for their sponsorship of this podcast. Looking forward to talking with you in the next episode.

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