Several area school districts have been awarded grants to establish or expand fabrication laboratories.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) awarded a $41,628 grant to the Lakeland consortium consisting of the Lakeland Union High School, Arbor Vitae-Woodruff Elementary School and North Lakeland Elementary School.
The Wabeno School District in Forest County received $25,000 and the Three Lakes School District in Oneida County received $20,640.
A fab lab is a high-technology workshop equipped with computer-controlled manufacturing components such as 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control routers and plasma cutters.
Gov. Tony Evers declared Monday as Fab Lab Day in Wisconsin.
Announcement of the Lakeland consortium grants came Monday during an informal open house to showcase the high school’s fab lab. Two students, Nicole Harris and Orianna Netzler, were on hand to talk about their fab lab experience.
“For LUHS the addition of equipment will give students the ability to work with tools that they will see in industry and allow them to easily transfer school work to paying positions,” said LUHS District Administrator Rob Way. “The students at Arbor Vitae-Woodruff will be able to apply their design and their problem solving skills to real world experiences. The students will be able to apply math and engineering skills in which they will be able to take a 3-D drawing and turn it into a final product.”
Leah Trojan, who teaches fine arts at LUHS, showed platters made by the students in the fab lab that were presented to winners of a recent foot race. Nathan Breitholtz, director of instruction, technology, and fab lab coordinator at North Lakeland, said his district started a fab lab four years ago. “It’s become a part of a lot of things that happen at school,” he said. “It’s very common to walk into science, EOA, social studies, art -- a variety of classes -- and see students using the type of design thinking and the actual fabrication software to then produce an object for a given project. And that’s happening routinely.”
Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) presented the formal proclamation for Fab Lab Day in Wisconsin. He then addressed the two students. “In the state of Wisconsin we know that not all students are going to go to a four-year college. And if you do, we think that is great. But if you don’t we’re hoping you take the skills you’ve learn in fab lab either to a technical college, like Nicolet College in Rhinelander, or right from Lakeland Union High School right into the work force. “The state of Wisconsin really is the leader across the nation in fab labs. What you kids are learning here is something a lot of other people in the nation are not.”
The 34th Assembly representative noted there are five fab labs in his district: Three Lakes, Florence, Northland Pines (Eagle River), Rhinelander and LUHS. “It’s something for me to be proud of because the Northwoods really has been the leader in fab labs across the state,” he added.
Just over a half million dollars were awarded to 20 school districts in this latest round of fab lab grants, which required local matching funds. WEDC received 56 applications, which were evaluated based on readiness and long-range planning, curriculum, business and community partnerships, financial need and previous awards. "Over the last four years, WEDC has invested over $2.1 million to provide 58 schools across the state the type of equipment needed to help students master the skills that are in high demand in the job market, including manufacturing, technology and engineering,” said Mark Hogan, secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s lead economic development organization.