Education inside a community makerspace overcomes many of the struggles of traditional education, including the propensity for overspecialization and isolation of content. It happens in schools that separate subject areas by hallways and in universities that use entire buildings to keep the humanities distanced from sciences. And with even more severity, entire institutions are used to keep the academic separate from the vocational. It’s an approach that has no doubt been successful in creating division between these worlds, generating pride in our overspecialization and resentment toward the others as we fail to communicate across boundaries. What we’re left with are specialists; programmed to perform specialized tasks when given specialized inputs. It has become commonplace for a practicing engineer to have never held a thermocouple or repaired a motor. People who are expected to design things are no longer expected to have built things and the result is a troubling lack of understanding. Rarely can the mechanical engineer work on their own failing automobile transmission, and rarely can the electrician program a simple microcontroller. Great thinkers and innovators need relevant hands-on experience to solidify their academic learning, and at Vector Space, we make it our goal to merge these worlds.
But to stop at what people can and can’t do in their isolated worlds would fall short of identifying a deeper problem. Worse is what we fail to even think about, let alone attempt to learn and understand. Consider the man-made inventions most important in your life, then imagine not having them. Clocks, clothes, pen and paper; most of us think of these things as trivial and unworthy of our attention until we don’t have them. This isn’t a new observation nor one that only plagues the uneducated. Carter G. Woodson recognized the problem a century ago, speaking of his highly educated peers, “Unless they happen to become naked they never think of the production of cotton or wool; unless they get hungry they never give any thought to the output of wheat or corn; unless their friends lose their jobs they never inquire about the outlook for coal or steel, or how these things affect the children whom they are trying to teach. In other words, they live in a world, but they are not of it.” Little seems to have changed; so few of us know anything about these items: where they come from, what they’re made of, how they’re made, why they’re made the way they are. When these simple things fail, or when their supply comes to a stop, as happened in post-war Japan, are you able to repair or recreate these essentials? War may be too extreme and unlikely a condition to motivate your learning, but such an unwelcome motivator shouldn’t be necessary. If we ignore the things our lives rely on, then what is worth our attention? Understanding how a shirt is made isn’t just important to aspiring fashion designers, it’s important to people who wear shirts, or pants, or clothes.
We have developed a series of camps for rising college freshmen from around the country that will bridge this divide, opening minds to a breadth of content, in a way that has lasting impact. The camps immerse students in a world that takes the time to consider how seemingly simple things are made, and in doing so recognize the deep connections that exist across disciplines. The camshaft in an engine has as much relevance to the sewing student as it does the automotive student, though traditionally only one of these students would receive this lesson. These educational experiences focus on making simple things from scratch, or as close to scratch as we can get. They require a variety of skills, led by top educators from around the country who bring different perspectives and approaches, attended by students from around the country with vastly different interests, visited by guest speakers ready to share a unique perspective on the world, interspersed with site visits to acquire materials from the source and wisdom from those around us, and topped by cultural evening experiences, led by a cultural guide, to remind us of the humanities in our communities and the importance of our communal engagement. These camps are designed to make makers: an experience with life changing impact.
Since 2015, Vector Space has been educating the public through maker education, an approach that deals not just in breadth of content, but also in experiences of deep engagement. This approach is one that sets high expectations and learns from failures, that demonstrates trust, that recognizes the importance of past experiences, of individuality, of history’s role in motivating learners, of the building of new knowledge upon old, the recognition of learning’s creeping pace, the construction of knowledge through tangible creation, the idea that knowledge should not be kept secret, and trust that students can take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for results.
We have implemented these principles and refined our approach during the last four years, leading students in the creation of drones, capsules launched 150,000 feet into the atmosphere, projects that merged fashion with computer programming and electronics, the creation of custom bicycles and skateboards, and an autonomous boat that sailed the James River using computer vision. These are only a few among the dozens of maker education programs that we are proud to have developed and led. We have seen the impact these programs have on students: motivation toward further education, engagement in community, and a passion for knowledge. We hear it from our students and their parents, sometimes during the course of the project and sometimes years later. Most telling of all is when a handmade gift arrives on our doorstep, courtesy of a former student.
The trend toward isolation is deeply embedded in our culture and certainly not one to be blamed solely on our universities. Nevertheless, rising college students are pressured into this pattern more than anyone. They’re put into an environment that encourages specialization, surrounded by others studying the same content, taught by people focused solely on that content, seeking jobs that utilize that content. This is the time to impart a lasting reminder that there’s knowledge to be gained from every facet of life, and this knowledge has value beyond the laboratory in realms outside a single industry. But if we don’t take the time to recognize these connections, if we learn in isolation, we’ll build isolated minds and isolated lives. The things we rely on are important, they have lessons to teach us, ones that can open minds to connections, processes, and ideas never considered. To make them is to understand them, and it’s the first step in becoming someone who is of the world.
Vector Space is seeking one or more maker educators to work alongside co-instructors during three, one-week maker camps in Central Virginia during July 2020. Since our founding in 2015, Vector Space has earned a reputation for our exciting and immersive STEAM programs for teens. Our unique programs have launched rockets and space balloons, combined fashion + tech on the runway, added public art to our city, designed autonomous boats and FPV drones, and more. This is an opportunity for a maker educator with at least 3-5 years experience to join our most ambitious project yet, as we invite rising college freshman from around the country to learn about the world in a new way before they set off for campus life for the first time. Qualified educators should have a wide expanse of expertise, though formal training in all familiar subjects is not expected.
Camp specifics are linked and listed below, as well as history and background about our organization and the Lynchburg, Virginia area. To apply to teach multiple camps, you must submit multiple appliations (non camp-specific answers may be copy/pasted when applying for more than one week). To preview application questions in PDF form, click here.
The task of the college student can feel overwhelming. Sent hundreds of miles from home into an environment unlike any they have experienced before, expected to live independently while simultaneously tasked with learning the depths of thermodynamics and calculus. Navigating dorm furniture, food plans, a laptop with decent wifi connection, and parking passes. But at its core, the task is simple: the student must wake up, get dressed, and take notes. To read more about our educational philosophy at Vector Space and how we are changing the future of youth in our programs, click here.
About Vector Space
Vector Space is a nonprofit makerspace: a physical place for people interested in science, technology, engineering, art, and math to collaborate, invent, discover, and build the things that interest them. Our mission is to build an open and collaborative community that fosters innovation, creativity, and the pursuit of science-based knowledge.
The makerspace is member-based for adults, and offers workshops for teens and adults. During and after school maker education programs are offered throughout the school year and during summer months. Our classes, workshops and projects inspire members to share knowledge, learn from each other, and mentor others. Each lesson is hands-on and taught by local makers and professionals: professors, engineers, graphic designers, woodworkers, computer scientists and more. Vector Space a is nonprofit corporation managed by a Board of Directors and organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes as defined by section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Lynchburg, Virginia is a small city of 80,000 residents, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and bordered by the beautiful James River. Like many former trade and manufacturing cities across America, ours is undergoing tremendous growth and revitalization after a devastating mid-century move towards suburbs and strip malls. In the last twenty years, Lynchburg residents are slowing beginning to look back up at the historic facades that have been mostly preserved, and are remembering a history of thriving maker businesses in downtown.
Vector Space is loced in Lynchburg’s historic and vibrant downtown district. Locally owned storefronts, coffee shops, eateries, and more offer unique and memorable opportunities year round. Multiple new restaurants and retail spaces are opening each year, while natural beauty remains accessible within city limits on the river, the rails-to-trails bike path, and along miles of beautiful hiking trails. Our home on 5th Street, formerly the thriving center for African American businesses, was once an abandoned retail area with high crime rates but has come back to life with the opening of the makerspace, restaurants, and small storefronts that have either survived the worst or returned to find a corridor almost reminiscent of its bustling past. Lynchburg is the home of five colleges and universities and the median age of residents is 28.7, providing a young audience invested in craft food, local culture, and meaningful objects and experiences.
This program is generously funded by Cognizant's Making the Future program, which seeks to inspire young learners to pursue science, technology, engineering and math disciplines by creating fun, hands-on learning opportunities.
One week it's art, the next week we're all business.
Immediately following our successful Public Art Camp, we welcomed a new group of students for our one week Entrepreneur Camp at Vector Space. Five students ages 10-12 spent one week launching a business and creating a line of products. The final event of their project is a booth at the Downtown Lynchburg Association's Get Downtown street festival on Friday, September 6th.
We began the week with a lesson on business: business plans, prioritizing expeneses, budgeting, market research, customer conversations, and more. During lunch we heard from guest speaker Becky Booth, Director of the Center for Economic Education at the University of Lynchburg, who had some great advice and sample youth-run businesses to share with us. Next, a lesson in sound and audio prepared students to create a custom line of speakers using a new technology called exciters. These nifty electronics turn any object into a speaker- although testing was needed to determine what makes the best quality speaker. Our students questioned and debated a few options before landing on an eco-friendly, digitally designed line of home audio speakers.
On Tuesday students began designing their speakers. Using graphic design software to digitally draw their work, we made practice pieces on the laser cutter and the vinyl cutter. They learned to design stencils, how to cut and engrave on the laser, and how to design a one-color sticker. Each of these techniques went on to become the means of getting digital designs onto the wooden speaker panels, which also needed to be prepped for use via sanding and cutting. Wednesday each student was busy creating two speaker designs, while we also set out looking for a chair to become our pièce de résistance. With a bass speaker installed in the back of the chair, this full-immersion audio experience is one for the geekiest of video lovers. Guest speaker Aaron Skeen of Rosetta Coffee discussed pricing structures, marketing efficiency, and how to build a strong brand with our students.
On Thursday speaker producation continued, with guest speaker Jeff Gray of Scene 3 Designs sharing his business model, including all recycled materials and custom designed packaging, as well as advice for deisplay setup and selling at an event. Students learned to solder and began assembling the exciters to be ready to mount on the speaker wood. Feeling short on time and products, students used hand painting and abstract spray painting techniques to hurry the production process along. Students also decided that if sales go well and we exceed our expenses, the proceeds would go towards a pizza party and stocking the Lynchburg Free Pantry.
On Friday students finished building, mounting, and testing speakers. We also turned our focus back to the business, deciding on our booth layout and creating necessary pieces to compete it. A screen printed table cloth and handmade display rack bring the look together. Tabletop information and tags on each speaker help inform customers about the products and the company.
Are you looking forward to supporting a young entrepreneur at Get Downtown? Here is a preview of what our students designed and created this week:
- Porter: Locally themed speakers, including laser engraved Virginia state elements for the sophisticated shopper
- Lucas: Our graphic design maven, he has limited runs of laser engraved speakers available for makers and Lynchburg lovers
- Katie: A fruit theme and two methods of vinyl cut stencil painting set her colorful speakers apart
- Elizabeth: Her focus was unwavered from day one and her world map speakers will appeal to travel fans
- Connor: Targeting the pre-teen demographic, his laser-cut stencil and spray paint techniques will be on display
Each student brought a unique design aesthetic and possitive attitude toward teamwork to the project. We are proud of their work and hope to see lots of support at Get Downtown on Sept 6th from 6:30-10pm on Main Street!
This summer six teens spent one week under the guidance of Nugent Koscielny and Elise Spontarelli to design and create a public mural, and a website cataloging public art in downtown Lynchburg. The Lynchburg Public Art website and Sunset on the James mural were designed and created by Sage Grant, Virginia Blair Trost, Meredith Plunkett, Shelby Kent, Augustus Knebel, Carolyn Royster, and made possible by Vector Space, James T. Davis Paint and Design Center, and the James River Council for Arts and Humanities.
Before camp began, instructors scouted locations and decided on the stairs leading from Rivermont Ave to the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance. With Alliance leadership enthusiastic about the idea and an MOU with the City of Lynchburg (who owns the property), the site was secured for painting. We gathered supplies, including paint donated from James T. Davis, and power washed the steps to prepare them for painting.
On day one students were introduced to Vector Space and their projects for the week. They traveled to the stairs to prime them, which was a great opportunity for thinking and brainstorming art ideas. They were introduced to the basics of websites and web hosting, and logged in to our self-hosted Wordpress site to get started. By Tuesday, a consensus about the general design of the steps had been reached. Students wanted to focus on the James River, which mirrors the stairs, incorporating scenes of sunset and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Day two also began the process of photographing and cataloging public art in downtown. We traveled to 14 different pieces of art to learn about and photograph them. We met artist Arnulfo Jacinto at his "Greetings from Lynchburg" mural, and learned about his career as an artist.
On day three we were back at the stairs, splitting the group in half to break up time spent in the heat and sun. While one group painted in the background of the sky, the other worked to upload photos to the website, modifying the theme and content as needed. The groups switched after lunch, continuing to upload content tot he website and paint in the background colors of the stairs. On Thursday we continued detail work for both projects. Modifying the website theme and plugins resulted in a more cohesive look and better functioning site. Stair details were first chalked and then painted, adding clouds, sun, mountains, buildings, and wildlife. We took a break to hear from local artist Christina Davis, who shared how she went from high school art student to professional artist, dabbling in various types of art along the way. Her insight and advice were great reminders for our young artists. The News & Advance also stopped by to chat and photograph our progress.
Friday spirits and temperatures were high. The whole group spent the morning at the stairs to finish up before afternoon heat set in. As students finished up our friends at the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance stopped by to thank the students and offer cold water and refreshments. We packed up our supplies, high fived, and brought everything back to Vector Space. During lunch we heard from guest speaker Nancy Lilly with Lynchburg Water Resources, who let students know about another opportunity to create public art in downtown Lynchburg: Art Storm. In the afternoon Meredith and VB interviewed their peers to gather artists statements, while Augustus brainstormed and collected feedback about a name for their mural. The finishing touch was adding the newly minted "Sunset on the James" mural to the lynchburgpublicart.com website! You can read the students artist statements below, and visit the website and the mural site to see their work.
Sunset on the James
Artists: Sage Grant, Virginia Blair Trost, Meredith Plunkett, Shelby Kent, Augustus Knebel, Carol Royster.
Shelby: Favorite part about the stairs are how the animals provide a cartoon texture and add personality. She also likes the sun set and how the clouds give off different perspectives from various distances with the shading, which was her goal. Shelby thought that these stairs always needed something and was happy she could contribute. She thinks that the staircase will inspire the public to pursue their dreams.
Carol: When she looks at the staircase she feels a need to smile and is happy with the colors bouncing off of the stairs. Carol’s favorite part of the stairs is the sunset because it is filled with the most color and she likes the gradient affect. She thinks that the stairs will draw people to them and will be a popular place for pictures to be taken.
Augustus: He has a feeling of accomplishment when he visions the stairs. His favorite part about the staircase/mural is that the river in the painting reflect the James River and Lynchburg’s history. He thinks that the mural will mostly draw attention to drivers and people taking a walk or run.
Sage: The look of the stairs brings Sage a sense of happiness from all of the colors. She thinks that it effects Lynchburg in the way it adds more character to our town. She also enjoys the thought of people taking pictures by the staircase.
Virginia Blair: When VB hears the word stairs, it brings her a feeling of elation. She immediately pictures the painted stairs. When she looks at them, she thinks of her best friend and the fun they had contributing and giggling. It reminds her that best friends can help you through any tough times. VB thinks that the “Sunset on the James” mural will add warmth into the city and brighten everybody’s day.
Meredith: She takes pride in the stairs and the fact that they were completed in a week. After painting the stairs Meredith felt more confident and how the color will take your eyes. It lifted her up when she heard people honking their horns and that they appreciated the fact that something was changing Lynchburg in a short amount of time. When working on the mural she never stopped laughing with her best friend at the same time as working together to contribute to the painting.
Where: On stairs outside Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, 300 Lucado Place
A set of stairs that has a mural of the James River and a setting sun.
Coach Tay, mentor, Adam Spontarelli, Instructor, and three Empowerment Students ready to skate.
This Spring five teens from the Empowerment Academy, an alternative education environment for Lynchburg City Schools students in need of credit recovery, SOL support, and/or specialized academic assistance, spent three hours each week building skateboards at Vector Space.
Now one does not just walk into a makerspace, even one as well-equipped as ours, and whip out a skateboard. No, these students spent the first four weeks of the project welding together a hydraulic press and pouring a concrete skateboard mold. While boards were being pressed, we skipped ahead to designing the graphics. Students built a custom screen printer and used the vinyl cutter to cut designs created in vector graphics software (Inkscape). Once boards were glued and pressed, it was time to cut them into a skateboard shape on the bandsaw, route and sand the edges, screen print the boards, apply grip tape, and attach trucks, bearings, and wheels. Ta da! Twelve weeks later each student was ready to give their boards a test run at the Riverside Skate Park. Helmets and boards in hand, students walked down to the skatepark followed by a visit to Scene3 boardshop.
With our press already built, Vector Space will be offering a one-week summer camp in July for students to press, design, print, and assemble their own board. Check out the registration page here: https://vector-space.org/skateboard-camp
We're launching a computer club this June. To find details and register for our first meeting, click here. If you find yourself on this page long after June 2019, look for future meetings on our Event listing page. You can also sign up for the Computer Club email list at the right. All are welcome.
What is this?
The Lynchburg Computer Club meets twice a month at Vector Space to share technical ideas and experiences in a variety of computational fields among people from a variety of backgrounds. The first Wednesday of the month is a talk on a topic that spans the Venn diagram of electronics, computing, and mathematics, ranging from fundamental knowledge as old as Jacquard’s loom, to bleeding edge technologies. The second meeting of the month is on a Saturday morning (the date of which is announced at the first meeting) and is an informal meetup for people to casually talk about similar topics and work on projects together. Think of it like a Brazilian Samba School that values computation. It’s a chance to get outside your bubble and to see how others use computers to solve problems found in industry, academia, government, and the home lab.
There are few places in the country with as much brain power per hectare, yet still small enough to drive across town during your lunch break. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity and bring something unique to Lynchburg. Tell the boss your new knowledge will double profits (it won’t).
These talks are put on by people like you. People with specialized experience in computing who can share that experience with a general audience. So please take the time to put in as much as you get out, volunteer to give a talk.
How Does This Help Lynchburg?
What does a group of typically highly paid and highly educated people nerding out over computers do for our city? Well first of all, communicating with knowledgeable people from a variety of fields in informal settings to discuss technical topics is a guaranteed way to expand the knowledge of the participants. Smarter and more connected professionals help our community thrive, which hardly needs to be explained. But instead of highlighting what this does for professionals, I want to focus on the benefits a group like this will have for the whole community.
If you observe a class in your local school, you'll see that computers aren't being used the way professionals use them; as tools to solve problems, to bring our creative ideas to life, or as tools for computation. Instead, they serve as test taking apparatus, a more efficient means of drilling exercises and testing than can be done with paper. And that's it. With the exception of a select few students taking specialized classes in high school, the only computer programming being done is as Seymour Papert put it, "using the computer to program the kid". And the effect is clear, there's a cultural phobia of computers that undoubtedly stems from a lack of understanding. It was true when Papert said those words in 1980, and it's every bit as true today. It's reflected through the public's understanding of computers and in the declining rate of completed computer science degrees.
Even without a visit to the schools or a deep dive into the data, you've probably had a glimpse of the problem while inside the walls of your institution. The new hires look every bit the same as you do, the only difference being that they seem so much less prepared than you were. Same people, less knowledge. I know, it's a cliche, romanticizing past generations and criticizing the new, including the easy target of our schools. But when we work behind closed doors, whether it's in the office or in our basements, our progress is only visible to those already in the know. To everyone else, you and the things you're working on don't exist. It's not that the public doesn't want to care, it's that we don't even give them the chance to care. They don't understand what we're doing, we don't tell them, so they go on not asking or caring, and the cycle continues, attracting the same select few that just happened by chance to be exposed to the field in a positive way.
If we want people to treat computers like we do, then we need to show them how it's done, we need to lead by example in a public setting and invite others to see. This is a major motivation for Vector Space in general, as this issue of hidden work is certainly not a problem unique to computing. The stereotypes of who does woodworking, sewing, metal work, etc. are well known and unlikely to change if they continue to happen in a vacuum, where skills never transfer to anyone different, they simply pass down through families and sometimes close friends. I've only chosen computers as my focus for this particular club because I so thoroughly enjoy them, and because I have a strong urge to help shape their cultural understanding and value.
If you want to see change like I do, this is your chance. You may think it's small, but if you, the computer scientists and enthusiasts, aren't willing to share your passion, then nothing will change. Because right now, the people who are willing to come out of their caves and share what they know rarely have your background, they aren't able to see or articulate the importance of this thing you know so dearly.
The ingredients for making Lynchburg a thriving community of intellectual thought are here: people with knowledge, from a variety of industries and academic fields, living in an easily navigable, small city, with a low cost for innovation, and access to what I believe (clearly with bias) is the perfect venue for bringing such people together.
Five teens participating in a rocketry program at Vector Space are national finalists in the Team America Rocketry Challenge. The Final Fly-Off is at Great Meadows in The Plains, Virginia on Saturday, May 18, 2019. There, 102 teams from around the country will compete for more than $100,000 in cash and prizes, the title of National Champion, and the honor of representing the United States at the International Rocketry Challenge in Paris, France from June 19 - 23, 2019.
The Vector Space team is lead by National Association of Rocketry member Mark Miller and Vector Space Director of Education Adam Spontarelli, and is one of only four teams in Virginia to qualify. Nationally 830 teams competed to attend the finals, with 76 of those teams from Virginia. Students have spent more than forty hours designing, building, and modifying their rocket each week at Vector Space since February. They spend Sundays at Sweet Briar College, test launching their rocket and recording flights, making note of needed adjustments. “This competition is designed to be a scaled down version of an actual aerospace payload mission”, says Miller, “it teaches the students about all the factors which can affect their flight and what is required in order to accomplish the mission.”
In order to prepare for the national finals, the team has extended their program and brought on former NASA astronaut and STEAM education advocate Leland Melvin as a sponsor and supporter. With Melvin’s support the team will purchase more motors and igniters for their rockets, acquire team uniforms, and make the trip to Northern Virginia in May.
The Vector Space team consists of high school students from around the area: William Jeon, Jefferson Forest; Zachary Wesbrook and Ian Hanrahan, homeschooled; Dustin Thomas, Cornerstone Christian Academy; and Savijon Hunter, E.C. Glass.
The Team America Rocketry Challenge is the world’s largest student rocket contest and a key piece of the aerospace and defense industry’s strategy to build a stronger U.S. workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Association of Rocketry (NAR), the Team America Rocketry Challenge was created in the fall of 2002 as a one-time celebration of the Centennial of Flight, but by popular demand became an annual program.