Patrick Henry Community College offers STEM-based learning lessons for families

Kids and teens get hands on with laser cutters, electronics and 3D printing

By Erin Brookshier - Virginia Today Reporter

Martinsville, Va. - Patrick Henry Community College is working to expand STEM-based learning for kids in the Southside area. The college is hosting monthly family days at its fabrication lab, giving kids the chance to get hands on with laser cutters, electronics and even 3D printing.

While the tools that students and their families are using as part of the courses are high-tech, they're learning about the science behind them in a fun way. They've learned how to solder and put together their own circuit board to create a mini-robot with flashing eyes, and how to use a laser cutter to design and cut their own Christmas ornaments.

It's been just over a year since the IDEA center and fabrication lab opened in Martinsville, not only to students at PHCC but to the entire community.

The lab is one of about 60 of its kind in the nation, and several recent grants are helping the lab reach even more kids and teens in the Henry County area. The National Science Foundation Grant is currently helping to create the STEM-pathway Duel Enrollment Program, where local high school students are using the lab to design and build their own guitars. Over the summer, the Verizon Foundation helped fund the Verizon Innovative Learning Camp for girls, which offered a STEM-based summer camp to 50 middle school girls from across the region.

"The idea is that if we can catch them young, get them excited, get them energized and wanting to learn more, they will pursue those opportunities when they get to high school and beyond that as well," says Tiffani Underwood, the community development director at PHCC.

The IDEA center stands of innovate, design, engineer and accelerate, which has become the building blocks behind the family days. The two-hour courses teach kids as young as six-years-old the fundamentals behind using a laser cutter, 3D printing and how to solder circuit boards.

"Of course they're all very excited to make their own little badges," says Christopher Wagoner, a technician at the FabLab. "It's different kinds of electronics and little bristle bots we can race around the room."

The hope for those working at the fablab is that these workshops will ignite a spark in the kids or their families, encouraging them to come back for other training programs like the month-long courses in 3D printing or laser cutting this fall. By taking part in those in-depth courses, they can receive the training they need for high-tech positions in the region.

"It's the technology training that folks receive as part of the classes," says Underwood. "They learn a lot of skill sets, whether it's software programming or hands on-technology, they're learning skills by using the equipment that they could then put in place in various industries here in the community as well."

The family days are on the first Saturday of each month and cost $15 for each child participating. In November, kids will learn to make chocolate creations with a 3D chocolate printing pen. In December, they'll design their own Christmas ornaments and bring them to life with a laser cutter.

To register for the family days, call 276-656-5461 or click here.

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