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Lakeland Consortium Receives First Fab Lab Grant

Dean S. Acheson photo

Lakeland Union High School (LUHS) and its two elementary school partners aren’t the only school districts to be awarded fabrication laboratories (fab lab) grants this week by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, but they are the first consortium to receive one.

The $50,000 grant the consortium received was also the largest of the 21 grants handed out by Gov. Scott Walker and other state officials during Tuesday’s “Fab Lab Day in Wisconsin” tour. The grant will help LUHS, North Lakeland Elementary School (NLES) and Minocqua-Hazelhurst-Lake Tomahawk Elementary School (MHLT) develop and expand their fabrication laboratories. LUHS  project coordinator Robert Way is the project coordinator for the consortium. He touched upon the grant’s goals at the prior night’s LUHS board of education meeting.

“By the year 2020 one of the top three job skills that employers are going to be looking for is creativity,” he said. “So we want to continue to cultivate that curiosity and creativity at Lakeland and this  is  one of the avenues to do that.”

Fab labs encourage students’ creativity with hands-on experience to prepare them for jobs in engineering and manufacturing fields. Collaborating in the grant application were Nathan Breitholtz, assistant principal and project coordinator at MHLT, and Brent Jelinski, superintendent and project coordinator at NLES. WEDC awarded a total of $494,809 to the 21 districts out of 69 that had applied.

Other successful applicants in the north include Rhinelander, Eagle River, Phelps, Antigo, Phillips, Florence County and Ashland. Individual districts could apply for $25,000, while consortiums were eligible for up to $50,000. Each successful applicant has to match the grant dollar-for-dollar. “We are excited to be the first consortium grant across the state,” Way said. “We are going to put a planning team together with members of the community and schools from the three districts to identify our scope and sequence for curriculum and to start to develop a plan for purchasing equipment.” Way said the fab labs will be a key part of the innovation zone they outlined in the grant application. He expects the consortium to have their programs fully implemented within 3-5 years. Most of the grant money and matching dollars will go for purchase of equipment “to bring cutting edge technology to the Northwoods for students and the community,” Way said.

The equipment will include 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control routers and plasma cutters. This year’s grant program also requires successful applicants to open their fab labs to the public to use. State officials along with higher education dignitaries were at Tuesday’s ceremony at LUHS to mark the occasion. But first they got to nibble on “T-Bird”-shaped cookies shaped by plastic cookie cutters made in the school’s fab lab. WEDC Deputy Secretary Tricia Braun praised the quality of the consortium’s application. What stood out was the proposal to bring “all ages, all levels across the districts” into the fab lab learning process, she said. Like others, she told the assembled students that the skills they learn in fab labs would help them in whatever career path they choose. Administrator/Principal Jim Bouché said the grant will “enhance pre-engineering programs at LUHS, along with enhancing our great connections with community and businesses in the Lakeland area.”

Dr. Keith Montgomery, regional executive director and Dean for University of Wisconsin-Colleges North Region, noted, “This fab lab grant is a really important investment in the north. It helps to retain talent in these communities – talent for the future. “In these labs, you will learn how to analyze an issue, problem solve, create a solution and communicate your outcomes,” he told students, adding those are skills that will serve them well as they enter the workforce, technical schools or the UW system.

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