Smile Politely

Mini Maker Faire comes to C-U

Science, technology, engineering, and design innovations don’t happen in a vacuum. Makerspace Urbana and the upcoming Urbana-Champaign Mini Maker Faire offer up unique opportunities for local minds to grow beyound the limits of dorkdom.  

dork [dawrk]

1. Slang.

a silly, out-of-touch person who tends to look odd or behave ridiculously around others;

a social misfit: If you make me wear that I’ll look like a total dork!

Synonyms: jerk, schmo; nerd, geek.

America’s constant quest to dumb things down that make us think too hard, and to label things we don’t understand, probably started the first time the Pilgrims sat down to share Thanksgiving Dinner with their Native brothers and sisters.

In the 1950s, the term “dork” came into prominence. Initially, it was slang for penis, and then mutated into a way to belittle smart people, different people, and people who ate at “that” table in the school cafeteria.

Today, people “get their dork on,” and things are termed “adorkable,” if combined with a cuteness factor. There’s “geek-chic” and people have been known to “geek out” at sci-fi and comic book conventions.

In the basement of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (IMC) in Urbana, there is a group of people waging a silent war against any negative connotations associated with people who are fascinated with science, those who are eager to discover how things are made, or those who show interest in how to make some of these things on their own.

From Makerspace Urbana’s About page:

Makerspace Urbana is dedicated to enabling the blend of arts, humanities, science and technology. Our mission is to provide an open community lab where people of diverse backgrounds can learn, teach, tinker, collaborate, share, innovate, socialize, and create.

Makerspace lab is a place for everybody. They are open to the public one and sometimes two evenings a week. It doesn’t matter if you have a big, artsy, long-term project you’ve always dreamt of completing, or you just want to learn how a 3D printer works. If you start a project, but don’t have the know-how or the proper tools to finish it, chances are there’s somebody at Makerspace who does.

Almost every weekend, the lab hosts a computer help desk, and a class that combines science and the arts. Recent brain research has proven that the whole right-brain-left-brain theory has been debunked for years folks—no excuses. Sitting at a computer and observing how soothing is done or how something is not the same thing as getting in there, getting your hands dirty, and doing it yourself.

Gergana Slovava, a coordinator at the lab easily makes the connection between science, art, and people.

We have a ton of people that do stuff at home in their garage. If you have a small project at home and you don’t want to buy a lot of equipment, you can go to a small organization like this to use their equipment, and then you meet a lot of people just like you. So, it sort of unites the community and matches people up with like interests. That’s really the purpose of it.

The good people at Makerspace don’t stop there, however. They want to start with young makers, not just the young makers at heart. Even the pewter casting class on Saturday is open to kids as long as they have a parent present.

For the third year running, Makerspace will be hosting The Mini-Maker Faire on September 21th at the IMC.

Featuring both established and emerging local “makers,” the Urbana-Champaign Mini Maker Faire is a family-friendly celebration featuring rockets and robots, DIY science and technology, alternative energy, bicycles, unique hand-made crafts, music, and educational workshops and installations.

“It’s been growing. The first year we had a few people, (Makers) and it wasn’t really known, but we still had a lot of people from the community” Slovava said.

I asked one of the makers I met at the lab what he thought the most unusual maker was at the faire last year. He said he didn’t get a chance to see anything because he was too busy teaching kids how to use a soldering iron. Many of the projects at the Mini Maker Faire are hands-on, and not only kid friendly, but kid-centered. Last year, the Central Illinois Aerospace rocket club, for example, helped each mini-maker who attended build their own rocket:

This is really good event to bring your kids to, because we run the entire day. At each table, people usually are showing their project, one that people could actually do, so it works really well. Kids get exposed to different crafts or to different technologies, things they wouldn’t naturally be exposed to in school. That’s probably the thing I like most about it.

It doesn’t matter if it’s as complicated 3D printer or as simple as Origami, kids learn by doing, and kids learn best from other kids. One year, an eight-year-old boy had his own booth and all he did was show Faire attendees how to properly use his table full of toy Transformers.

Everything from the UIUC Fab Lab, to Hacker Bands, to crafters, finger knitting, tube drumming, circuit bending, and toy making is welcome at the faire.

Out of touch? Silly? Ridiculous?

There are dorks in this world but you won’t find any at Makerspace Urbana or at the third annual Mini-Maker Faire. The dorks these days are the dreamers who never act on their dreams, and the kids who let Playstation do their exploring for them.

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