Empowerment: Fall 2022

This week a new group of students from Lynchburg City Schools Empowerment Academy begins their semester at Vector Space. As they embark on a new community project, we wanted to share the work of last semester's students.

Vector Space has partnered with Empowerment for several years, but that partnership, like so many other things, was interrupted during the pandemic. Each semester five students who are staying on top of their grades and have a good attendance record are selected to spend each Wednesday afternoon at the makerspace. Fall 2022 was our first semester back, and we chose Blutooth Speakers as the project. Each week we spent time getting to know students, training them on the woodshop and electronics tools, and giving them tools to express their creativity, like laser engraving and spray painting. By the end of the semester we had a collection of fully-functional, highly personalized speakers that each student took home.

Throughout the semester we learned of students' interests, goals, and previous hands-on experience. This group was particularly adept at handling power tools and being able to visualize a 3D object from a set of 2D plans. Many of them had shop class at Dunbar Middle previously, and they were gratified by the hands-on work of cutting, routing, sanding, and assembling their wooden speakers. Electronics was a new frontier for most of the students, with the exception of an attempted lamp repair by one ambitious teen, but they showed persistance and an admirable amount of competitive spirit in building the best looking and sounding speaker. As always we began with a plan that included room for following the students' lead. Their interests lead to the unplanned lessons of laser cut stencils, leather handles, programmable LED lights, a space-themed spray paint effect, 3D printed speaker accessories, and advanced wood joining techniques.

We celebrated their successful speaker build with a field trip to Blackwater Branding + Add Logo, where local recording artist Phinees motivated the students with his own story of following his passion to success. A stop into Mrs. Joy's for a cookie along with an entrepreneurial boost from another Lynchburg role model rounded out our field trip. With the semester wrapped, we are now working to connect these promising students with our local employer partners at EDM, Southern Air, and Foster Fuels for internships and post-graduation employment.