University of Wyoming
What personal accomplishment are you most proud of?
Working toward my Master’s at UW was one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do, and receiving my Master’s one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of. I’m equally proud of the work we’ve been doing to establish a maker movement at the University. Without question, serving as director of UW’s Student Innovation Center makerspace network is the most rewarding and fun experience I’ve had in my life. The University’s administration has given us their trust and a generous amount of freedom to develop our own maker movement, and I’m excited to see what the future holds!
It’s thrilling to see what creative projects are dreamt up by UW students and members of the Laramie community. Each project is different, each one is incredibly clever. We’ve helped to realize projects in a huge array of STEAM disciplines, with topics ranging from migratory patterns to molecules and projects as varied as fixing bike handles and preserving fragile fossils.
What is your primary personal development goal/business goal for the next 5 years?
My hope is to see the maker movement in Wyoming flourish. My staff and I are working now, alongside other makerspaces in Wyoming, to create and connect an extensive network of Wyoming “makers” outside the University and across the state. Makerspaces and similar creative communities thrive when ideas are shared and collaboration is encouraged. We want to share what we’ve learned, and similarly learn what we can from others. In doing so, our hope is to strengthen the Student Innovation Center’s ties to other creative communities.
In five years, I would love to see the makerspace network at the University extend across many different shops on campus, each one buzzing with student, community, and K-12 projects. Part of our role is to help shepherd ideas from inception to production, and encourage innovation and small business growth in the state. We want to teach everyone how to use this tech, and apply what they’ve learned to all aspects of their lives. We want to participate in this new maker movement that encourages hands-on making and thinking outside the box, and for the maker communities at UW to be places where anyone can come in, create, communicate, and collaborate.
What is your biggest philanthropic achievement?
My family has always placed a lot of value in helping others. In 2001 we began what would be a constant in our lives: helping with the acculturation of a group of 12 refugees from South Sudan. These Dinka boys, nicknamed “the Lost Boys of Sudan,” were displaced or orphaned during Sudanese civil war. We’ve helped them transition to life in America, and my role included everything from designing and implementing city-wide fundraisers to teaching them about technology. They, in turn, helped me broaden my world perspective. We consider them family, and many of them now have families of their own, so you might imagine that our holidays can be pretty big!
Here in Laramie, the technology and technical know-how of the students and staff at the Student Innovation Center put us in a unique position to help others, and so we’ve made it a big part of the mission of the SIC to use these tools to continue giving back. Only a few weeks ago, I designed and 3D printed a series of different-sized custom splints for a young puppy that had a broken, malformed leg after an accident. We’re hoping for a speedy recovery, and we look forward to helping wherever we can with projects like these.
What action or event that you’ve been a part of do you believe has made the biggest difference in Laramie? Or, which action or event are you most proud of?
Serving as director of the Student Innovation Center makerspace network is certainly the role that I think has made the biggest difference in Laramie. With guidance from the Libraries, IT, and the College of Engineering & Applied Science, we successfully established one very popular makerspace in the Coe Library. We’ve had more than 5,300 visitors since we started counting in September 2017; an average of 350+ a month! They come with a huge range of requests, from learning how to 3D print to learning how to 3D model, 3D scan, sew, cut vinyl, build electronics, design in VR, or repair equipment. It’s our job to empower visitors to use this equipment for any sort of project they want. Anyone can come in, we’ll teach them, and it’s almost all entirely free!
By Fall 2019, we’ll be unveiling a second 3,500 sq. ft. shop in the new Engineering Education and Research Building that I’m extremely excited about. Expect to see state-of-the-art equipment in the new makerspace, from laser cutters, water jets, and wood shop equipment to 3D printers that can work with metal, clay, and even food! If you can dream it up, we want to teach you how to use the equipment that will help you make it.
What excites you most about the future of Laramie?
I moved to Laramie in 2013 for grad school, but chose to stick around after graduation for the wonderful career opportunities and creative communities here. I’ve found that Laramie, unlike many larger cities, provides better career opportunities and more effective professional development. You might find jobs here that require more responsibility, but with those expectations come more rewards and opportunities for growth.
My one wish would be for young professionals to stay in town after graduation. My hope is that ENDOW, IIE, and the work of the creative communities in town (our makerspaces included) will inspire talented, career-driven UW graduates to establish exciting new businesses in Laramie, drawing on the many tools at their disposal. Startups and entrepreneurial endeavors are one way to help grow Wyoming’s population, and makerspaces could be where these startups are born.
I’m looking forward to a downtown rich with culture and art and great food, and I’m very excited to see how the beautification and development projects unfold. Most of all, I’m excited to see how the University of Wyoming makerspaces can help drive Laramie’s future growth wherever needed!
What do you think has helped make you successful in your endeavors?
I’m fiercely passionate and driven when it comes to the things I care about. It’s hard not to get excited about the wide range of different projects coming in to the makerspace! We’ve 3D printed Dungeons & Dragons miniatures, clarinet reeds, parasite models, field topography, precise parts for mass spectrometers, fish feeding troughs, and articulated pumpjacks. We’ve taught groups of eight-year-olds how to design and build sustainable agriculture robots, working circuits, catapults, and remote-controlled model cars. Even when I get off work, I find myself thinking of different projects or working on different things for the SIC. For me, the line between “work” and “fun” is easily blurred. The diversity of topics and interests and expertise that come through our doors is invigorating, and ensures that every day is different. It’s hard for that sort of enthusiastic love of learning and innovation that people bring into the space not to be infectious!
What advice would you give to other young professionals in Laramie?
Stick with it, be persistent, and definitely follow your passion! Embrace mistakes (as long as you learn from them), accept help, and give back however you can. Surround yourself with like-minded peers and mentors who can help you grow. I really love that Bill Nye the Science Guy quote: “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't.” It’s our community of brilliant student staff, volunteers, and visitors that make the makerspace what it is. Each one of them brings something wonderful to the table. Listen to others and never stop learning.