Ithaca is a Maker City

ithaca-maker-city
image source: Maker City by Hirshberg & Dougherty

This past weekend I was invited to share stories about my city, Ithaca, NY, on a panel at World Makerfaire in Queens. The panel was moderated by Peter Hirschberg, a well known urban innovator and co-author of the new book Maker City: Urban Manufacturing and Economic Renewal in American Cities. Hirschberg co-wrote the book with founder of Makerfaire and Make Magazine, Dale Dougherty. They wrote it to capture the momentum from the Maker Cities initiative that was issued by The White House in which mayors all over the country, including our very own Svante Myrick, signed an agreement to support maker culture.

But what is a maker culture? And what does it mean for our city? I have my hand in a few parts of Ithaca’s maker culture and admire it’s many other parts. My sense is that Ithaca has a lot of the pieces in place to elevate the spirit of creativity and invention that is already so deeply embedded here. Let me list some of these pieces that are already here to help us connect the dots, starting with organizations that serve youth to ones that support artists, tinkerers, and inventors–and those that support hardware startups and manufacturing.

We have organizations like The Science Center, Ithaca Physics Bus, and Xraise, who are working hard every day to make sure our young people grow up seeing themselves as STEAM innovators. We have a rich tradition of art and hand craft and music (fun fact: the Moog Synthesizer was invented here). We have Ithaca Generator, a high tech community makerspace right in the heart of downtown and Hammerstone School Carpentry for Women. We have higher education, like Cornell, Ithaca College, and TC3, who foster the integration of creative thinking, technology, and problem solving.

We have programs like Challenge Workforce and Fingerlakes Reuse that train people with disabilities or other job challenges to do product packaging and electronics repair. And we have co-working spaces and business incubators like Rev Ithaca that houses a prototyping lab and hardware accelerator. As far as manufacturing goes, we have contract manufacturers like Wicked Device and Incodema 3D that have manufacturing expertise and specialized tooling.

In addition to our rich maker culture, Ithaca is a walkable city with trails along three waterfalls that run through downtown. We have a flourishing local food scene and arts and culture festivals year round.

So yeah, we’re on the Maker Cities map. Creators and inventors, come check us out. And if you already live here and are interested in invention, be sure to appreciate all that we have because the startups or inventors that have succeeded here didn’t do it alone. They were lifted up by the creative community that we have here in Ithaca. It’s a great place to live and create.

This post was originally posted at IthacaGenerator.org

 

Write-storming

If you read this blog, then you know that I’m interested in techniques for harnessing collective intelligence. Why? Because the complex problems we face require participation from a diverse array of stakeholders. Why? Because diverse participation, when done right, leads to better outcomes.

If you do a lot of team work, then you know that it’s easy to fall into the pattern of letting only half of the project team dominate the majority of the conversation. So a great technique for engaging the entire team, and thus arriving at more creative results, is write-storming. What write-storming does is it carves out time and space for all team members to engage in quiet writing and reflection. The ideas that individuals generate during a write-storming session can then be drawn on for group discussion.

I’ve been doing write-storming in one form or another for years but I really like how author Leigh Thompson maps out the technique. I’ll summarize here: Write-storming sessions are short, like 5-10 minutes. In a session, team members work silently to generate a lot of ideas on their own. Each idea should be written on an individual index card in legible hand-writing – I recommend all caps. Then the cards are collected, shuffled, redistributed, and read aloud for discussion. It’s important that the ideas remain anonymous so that the team can focus on the work and not on egos. The next step is for the team to categorize the cards and flesh out the ideas that have the most potential. I recommend fleshing out an array of ideas from safe&easy ideas to wild&challenging ones.

For more on the technique, check out this piece in FastCo called “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work.” And if you like that, you’ll want to check out the book Creative Conspiracy by Leigh Thompson.

Finally, if you have effective strategies for harnessing collective intelligence, or any insights into this problem, then please share them in the comments.

Repost: 4PS OF THE MEDIA LAB

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This post originally appeared at http://ithacagenerator.org/

Last week a fellow IG member and I went to the Scratch Conference at MIT Media Lab. Scratch is a visual programming language developed by folks in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard. The goal of the project is to help kids (and adults) transform themselves from “consumers of stuff” to “makers of stuff.” (Sound familiar?)

What impressed us about the conference is that it wasn’t only focused on technology, but on the social aspects of engaging with technology. The Media Lab has four principles that guide their techno-social-creative process: PROJECTS, PEERS, PASSION, and PLAY.

PROJECTS

Makers don’t just talk about ideas. They make stuff. So PROJECTS are the physical manifestations of making. We participated in two project-oriented workshops:

1. DIY CARDBOARD INTERFACE https://vine.co/v/MVmqeOYPP6b
by https://twitter.com/adlogi
2. ARDUINO + SCRATCH https://vine.co/v/MVKUblOhZ6X by https://twitter.com/qramo

Both workshops were scaled well and effective. Something that stood out to us was how the participants, who are educators from around the globe, interacted with each other. We helped each other troubleshoot and explore. All of us seemed comfortable with rapid trial and error. Which leads to the second principle – Peers.

PEERS

In the keynotes, there was a lot of emphasis put on the role of peers when we are learning to program or make things. In the keynote on Day 2, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl https://twitter.com/ElyseEA of the National Writing Project said something that hit home. Now, her project is to transform “readers” in to “readers who write” but you can see the connection to transforming consumers to makers. Elyse pointed out that hour-long workshops have their place because they introduce people to writing. But to become a writer, one needs to engage with a community over time. They need to share their work. They need to get and give feedback. They need to mentor and be mentored. Something to think about as we look at our programming at the makerspace. How do we nurture our community so that more Ithacans can go through this transformation?

PASSION

One thing we think about at IG and in tech overall is how to foster more diversity and inclusion in our community. One way to help more kids and adults learn technology is to offer experiences that enable them to tie technology – which is new and foreign to them – to something that they are already passionate and knowledgable about. Then the technology becomes less of a scary thing that newbies can’t do and more of a new tool for expressing ourselves. This passion principle is held by Harvey Mudd College where they offer joint majors that allow people to integrate a field they are passionate about with CS. It seems to be pretty effective with women filling over ½ of their CS student slots.

PLAY

There’s a lot of talk about PLAY in the creativity space. At MIT, they make an interesting distinction between PLAYGROUND play and PLAYPEN play. The playground is a social environment where we interact with people and explore our decision making processes. In the PLAYPEN, our activity is more constrained. We don’t have the freedom to reach outside of ourselves. So when we are designing playful environments, it’s important to keep this distinction in mind.

The last session we went to at the conference was a session hosted by women who created the FAMILY CREATIVE LEARNING https://twitter.com/ricarose guide and GUERILLA POPup MAKERSPACEhttps://twitter.com/GuerrillaMakers. Both projects integrate all 4 Ps of the Media Lab. Here’s a secret they shared that we really love, “The aesthetic of these things is that it should feel like a family gathering. We always start with food.”

YOUR TURN

We welcome your insights on the 4 Ps or other principles that have captured your imagination. Share them with us in the comments or on our facebook or twitter streams.

Repost: Encouraging Young Women in STEM

this piece origially appeared at IthacaGenerator.org

Last week, Ithaca Generator makerspace (IG) partnered with Xraise, the outreach program at the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based Sciences and Education, to host a week-long GERLS Camp for middle school girls. GERLS is an acronym developed by the program’s leaders Lora Hine, director of outreach at Xraise, and Claire Fox, education coordinator at IG. The acronym stands for “Girl Engineers Really Love Science!”

The camp had 11 girls participate from a number of area schools in Tompkins County. Additionally, several female mentors* from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and downtown institutions worked with the girls throughout the week.

THE FACTS ON WOMEN IN STEM

According to a 2012 Girls Scouts report titled, “Generation STEM,” women are not well represented in engineering, computing, and physics with only 20% of bachelor degrees in these areas earned by women and 26% of women with STEM degrees pursuing careers in STEM.

The report provides evidence on why these numbers are so low. While interest in STEM among high school girls is high, these same girls don’t necessarily want careers in STEM. They want jobs in which they can be creative, solve problems, work collaboratively, and make the world better. And the way that STEM is taught in many high schools now, it’s hard for girls to see that connection.

Another problem is that many girls don’t have STEM role models. When we asked one of the mentors at GERLS camp, computer scientist Jennifer Westling, why she thought there aren’t many women in STEM, she responded, “As a girl, I never knew any women engineers or scientists. As a result, I just didn’t envision myself in those roles.”

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Research coming out of the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT finds that there is a positive correlation between the number of women on a team and how smart the team is. So it’s important that women have opportunities to not only get in to these teams but to make sure these places are designed so that women can succeed once they are in.

GERLS Camp mentor Jenn Colt adds this insight, “We’re not going to solve the important problems facing us today if we have half the population convinced that they aren’t smart enough to take on these challenges. We don’t need everyone to be a scientist but we need everyone believing that they have important contributions to make and their gender doesn’t determine the value of their ideas.”

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

In a 2014 interview with Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College–a place where they’ve worked to get over half of the students in computer science to be women–Dr. Klawe lays out her insights on how to engage more women in STEM. ‘First, the intro courses need to be compelling, tying STEM to real world problem solving and creativity. Second is building confidence in the community and encouraging students to ask each other for help. And finally, it’s important to offer joint majors where women can integrate subjects they feel confident in with STEM.’

GERLS CAMP

In line with Dr. Klawe’s insights, GERLS Camp was filled with real, hands-on activities, lots of encouragement to work collaboratively and to help each other, and the girls were allowed to bring their own interests into their projects. Many of the girls worked with the Gemma microcontroller, developed by STEM Innovator Limor Fried, to create wearable electronics that solved real problems they had like a hat that reminded them to put on sunblock or a purse that lit up on the inside when opened in a dark space.

Lora Hine adds, “Research shows that childhood interest in science, not performance in science, has been shown to be a greater predictor of choosing to concentrate in STEM as a career (Maltese and Tai, 2011).  The more we can do to positively influence a girl’s perception of what it means to ‘do’ science or to be a scientist, the more likely she will be to pursue science-related activities inside and outside of school time.”

The experience was great for the GERLS but also for the female mentors. Says Jennifer Westling, “I’d just like to show my appreciation to XRAISE and the Ithaca Generator for making these opportunities available, not just for the girls, but for women like myself, to share our passions with the next generation!”

To see more of our work encouraging Youth in STEM, come to the Maker Expo at Tompkins County Public Library on Saturday 23 August from 11am-1pm.

 

RELATED READING

GIRLS SCOUTS 2012 REPORT

http://www.girlscouts.org/research/pdf/generation_stem_full_report.pdf

2014 INTERVIEW WITH MARIA KLAWE

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/31/women-in-engineering_n_5631834.html

TOMPKINS COUNTY STEM INNOVATORS FEATURED IN THIS ARTICLE

http://www.lansingstar.com/business-archive/10102-women-entrepreneurs-on-the-cutting-edge

Xraise, Cornell University

http://www.classe.cornell.edu/Outreach/WebHome.html

 

MENTORS

Romy Fain – graduate researcher in the Nanophotonics group

http://nanophotonics.ece.cornell.edu/

Saramoira Shields AKA MathematiGal http://mathematigal.com/ Math major at Cornell, Research Assistant in a soft robotics Lab http://www.mae.cornell.edu/research/groups/shepherd/

Eva Luna – MS Biological and Environmental Engineering, assistant at the Engineering Teaching Excellence Institute at Cornell

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/eva-r-luna/19/269/b32

Jenn Colt – UX Designer at Cornell University Library and IG Board Member

www.linkedin.com/in/jenncoltdemaree

Xanthe Matychak – Professor of Strategic Communication at Ithaca College and IG Board Member

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/xanthe-matychak-mfa/57/1a5/37

Jennifer Westling – Computer Scientist and IG Member

www.linkedin.com/pub/jennifer-westling/19/32/645

Dr. Rebecca MacDonald – Swanson Director of Engineering Teams at Cornell Universiy http://www.engineering.cornell.edu/magazine/features/macdonaldqa.cfm

Lina Sanchez Botero – Graduate Student, Fiber Science Department, Cornell University

http://nanotextiles.human.cornell.edu/people.htm

Denise Lee – Coordinator of the Saturday Science and Mathematic Academy, Ithaca New York

Today’s DIY is Tomorrow’s Made in America

Last week The White House hosted its first ever Maker Faire, a celebration of individuals and groups of people who work on DIY projects. The title of this post is a quote from the president at the event. It couldn’t be more right on.

from The White House web site:

America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. But in recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything….

…The rise of the Maker Movement represents a huge opportunity for the United States. Nationwide, new tools for democratized production are boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in manufacturing, in the same way that the Internet and cloud computing have lowered the barriers to entry for digital startups, creating the foundation for new products and processes that can help to revitalize American manufacturing.

Here in Ithaca, I’m proud to serve on the board of our local makerspace, Ithaca Generator. It’s a place for people of all ages and backgrounds to explore twenty-first century tools and technologies that have the potential to revitalize American manufacturing. We’re open to the public so check out our events calendar and come on down!

http://ithacagenerator.org/events/calendar/

 

related:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/maker-faire

http://makezine.com/

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick visits Ithaca Generator

Ithaca Generator featured on page # 14 of this WH report: http://mac.madwolf.com/sites/default/files/FINAL%20Maker%20Mayor%20Action%20Report_0.pdf