Maker and Hacker spaces are incredibly important for every community to provide a place for kids and adults to learn, explore, create and build with their own free will. It is so good to be seeing these places popping up in towns all across America, the world even! Vocademy is one such place coming to Southern California and we here at OC Mini Maker Faire have been thrilled to watch it’s growth and progress over the past year. Here’s Gene Sherman telling about this journey in his own words:
A journey begins with an idea and can take you to unimagined and unexplored places. My journey began with an observation that I started to see over and over. Every student over the last 15 years or so has been told that their only option was to attend college in order to be a success.
Schools have been slowly getting rid of their hands-on skills’ classes. Metal shop, wood shop, ceramics, sewing, auto shop…look at your local schools and you will see that they rarely exist anymore. Having gone through high school in the 80s, I did have those resources available to me, and I took advantage of every one I could. It is probably what kept me going to school during my junior and senior years. Even those who do choose higher education are missing out on the joys and creativity necessary in making things with their hands.
I look around today and think to myself, where can the average person go if he/she wants to create something, invent, tinker, explore and/or learn to use tools or machinery? Maybe to a friend’s shop or garage, but how many people have access to that?
It got me thinking about how I could be part of a solution to this dilemma that faces young and old, male or female, student or not. Where could someone go to get the hands-on skills to create or learn to make what they wanted? You see, I have always been a maker and have been curious about how things worked. I built models and played with RC cars and helicopters. If something broke, I figured out how to fix it. These are priceless experiences that put you in control of your possesions. I had parents who encouraged and taught me how to explore, how to use hands-on tools, and my father was a master machinist who taught me the nuances of the profession.
As I mentioned earlier, I was becoming disheartened by the lack of skills being taught and how people did not have a place to use these skills. I knew I was not alone in this thought. And so years ago I discovered that there was a movement growing, a maker movement. People started getting together in tiny garages and homes. They would share their limited resources and expertise and just make things. But these groups were very small and not well known. I wanted a place where anyone can go, any time of day. And that is how the idea for Vocademy came to fully develop.
Another integral part of the Vocademy process was when I worked at a local university as the lab and shop manager for a mechanical engineering department. I worked there for five years, and I saw a distressing trend. These future engineers didn’t know basic tools, or how to read blueprints, or what kinds of metals to use, or even how to competently use machinery. In a school of over 21,000 students, only 50 had access to the shop. I knew there were many others interested in learning this stuff! So, I started teaching my own version of Machine Shop 101 class to the students in order to help fill in their learning gap and quickly found out that many in community also wanted in. Word spread and people started asking for more! They wanted woodshop, sewing, 3D printing and every other kind of “industrial art” possible. I also wanted to make these classes available on a larger scale. To also let people use the entire facility to practice what they learned and make whatever they desire!
Now, here we are in 2013, and we just completed an incredibly successful crowdfunding campaign. Last week, I signed a lease to our new 15,000 sq. ft. building in Riverside. We hope to be moving in in September! Meanwhile, I am working on finding/meeting with equity investors, gathering more equipment and hiring staff. There is a lot to do and I am expecting our grand opening to be October 6th.
The journey will continue, and there will be unexpected turns and hills and valleys. Today Vocademy is now coming to reality and once again, people will be able to express themselves with their hands.
To learn more about Vocademy just click on the name to visit their website or come see them in person at the OC Mini Maker Faire on August 17th at UCI!