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Scott Ellis: Welcome to the Frisco Podcast. I’m your host, Scott Ellis. This week we’re hanging out at the Sci-Tech Discovery Center making stuff. All right. We are here with Bob Gilkison. He is the manager of the Makerspace at the Sci-Tech Discovery Center. It’s your job to play.
Bob Gilkison: I know. Isn’t that amazing? It is fantastic. I love doing this stuff. We have quite a neat opportunity Raytheon has given us by donating money to outfit our Makerspace, and we have some of the coolest stuff you can find around the world.
Scott Ellis: We took a little tour before we sat down to talk. You guys have some awesome gear. We’ll get into that in a minute. First of all, tell us a little bit about how you got to be the guy who gets to come in and play every day and teach other people about having fun with these things.
Bob Gilkison: My education is electrical engineering. I worked in the industry for almost 20 years designing integrated circuits, as well as some control systems for commercial HVAC systems. A little bit broad variety, did some product development. Nerd through and through.
Scott Ellis: Welcome to the club.
Bob Gilkison: Exactly. I do love making things and working with my hands. What I found with the engineering was I sat at a desk all day staring at a computer and wondering what … I woke up and said, “This isn’t what I had in mind when I started as a kid dreaming about this stuff.” I started up a business called Newton’s Lab, which is a tinkering engineering school for kids. I have partnered with Sci-Tech Discovery Center since 2012 and then as … Most recently one, Raytheon donated the money to outfit our Makerspace here at Sci-Tech Discovery Center. I came on full-time to manage the Makerspace. Bringing those four or five years of experience, tinkering school with kids was a natural fit to come on board and just expand that to adults as well.
Scott Ellis: Now we’re doing classes here at the Sci-Tech Discovery Center for kids and adults. We’re going to talk a little bit more about the adults because there’s some very important things we want to touch on there, but for the kids, let’s just touch on that briefly, what kinds of things do you have for them? I saw the space. It looks like they’re having fun. Tell me a little bit about the classes for the kids and what … Especially if I’m a parent that maybe wants to introduce my kid to those things, what would I have to look forward to?
Bob Gilkison: One of the things that’s very important in today’s culture is to get people back to using their hands. My parents’ generation and generations prior to that did a lot of things with their hands. They had to make sure their farm machinery worked. They knew mechanisms forward and backward. They had to make sure their washing machine kept running. Previously we’re a society of makers. It wasn’t called makers back then, but as our society has developed and things have become much more disposable, we tend to replace things rather than repair things. Unfortunately there’s less shop class in schools. If you can find a shop class, it’s nice. A lot of these hands-on skills are being left by the wayside. A result is that our American innovation is suffering in a way. We’ve off-shored everything.
Being an engineer and working with engineers that have never used a soldering iron was a big shock to me, but that’s not uncommon. Now with the kids, I want to reintroduce them to this magic. It really is magic to their eyes of how to create and use your hands, use tools to make stuff. I give them real tools. These are kids that are seven and eight years old and up. Sometimes our society says, “Oh, you can’t let them touch that,” but we had kids doing that years ago, and we have become hyper-sensitive to safety. I’m kind of going around and around, but by allowing these kids to have real tools and real materials, we can create some really cool stuff, and it expands their notion or their paradigm of what is possible. A kid can say, “I have built this. I’m not equipped with a skill to do bigger and better things.” Giving them skills at young ages allows them to have more experience to solve bigger problems as they grow.
Some examples, we work with wood a lot because that’s a very simple and easy way to enter, but we … Hot glue guns, and soldering with electronics, popsicle sticks, lots of popsicle sticks. We do all kinds of stuff. Basically we do woodworking. We do mechanisms. We do cardboard and duct tape. Oh yeah, duct tape. What would we do without duct tape? Making is a blend of science, engineering, physics, and art, craft. It’s such a huge umbrella, maker, the word maker. It encompasses so many different hobbies, I guess would be a word. By combining them, you are equipped with some skills to create some really cool stuff, electronics and wood, duct tape and costumes. I’m rambling. There is so many cool things that we do to teach kids and give them experience with making things.
Scott Ellis: I love the enthusiasm you have for this. That clearly comes out. You’re obviously the right guy to be teaching this class here. That’s what the kids get into. It sounds like a lot of fun for them. Let’s talk a little bit about the adults, because this Makerspace is for big kids, too.
Bob Gilkison: That’s true.
Scott Ellis: In particular, we have an event that’s happening every month called First Fridays, where you’re targeting vets and active duty military who want to come in and learn some new skills, experiment, try something different. Talk a little bit about that program and then we’ll come back to the rest of the big kids later.
Bob Gilkison: Sounds good. A maker-space, we haven’t really laid out what a maker-space is, but traditionally a maker-space has been a place for adults. It would be a facility that has a wide variety of materials. Pardon me, machines, tools, access to things that you wouldn’t necessarily have if you’re just on your own in the garage, unless you’re fortunate. I would not be one of those people, but a band saw, table saw, a chop saw, scroll saw, planer, sander, belt sander, all kinds of different tools. By having a group of really nice tools that Raytheon was generous enough to provide for us, it allows people to come together and use the tools to create whatever they can come up with. With the First Fridays vets program that we have, we bring guys in and girls and teach them a skill. Maybe they have some experience using woodworking tools, maybe not, but by allowing them and giving them some instruction, it equips them with some skills that allow them to take that and run.
A maker-space, not only is it a place for tools, but it’s also a place for community. Joe comes and he’s got really good experience working with metal. Sally comes and she’s got great experience working with wood. They can learn from each other. They may not have intended to, but by being in the same place at the same time, the see what the other one’s doing, and they can learn from each other and help each other. That’s what’s really cool about the maker community, is that it’s very supportive, and cross-pollination of skills. It’s really a fun thing. For instance, one of the programs that we had, husband and wife vets, both vets, army vets, they came and we did some woodworking. She had never done that. The husband had, but the woman had not. She was just loving it. She says, “Man, this is the greatest date night I’ve had in a year.” It was a really neat experience. You mentioned the enthusiasm. Again, when people work with their hands that don’t normally do that, and they come away with something that they made, it’s euphoric. It’s a neat experience.
Scott Ellis: It’s got to be very satisfying for you to see people come in, pick up that skillset, see how happy and excited they are when they walk out the door with a smile on their face because they just … “Look what I made. I did this.”
Bob Gilkison: [crosstalk 00:08:56]
Scott Ellis: Yeah.
Bob Gilkison: That’s my feeling, too. Every time I come home at the end of the day and I have created something, I say, “Ah yeah, I feel really good. I’m ready to go back and make some more.”
Scott Ellis: A sense of accomplishment.
Bob Gilkison: Exactly, exactly.
Scott Ellis: The program specifically is called First Fridays. That is the first Friday of every month.
Bob Gilkison: That’s correct.
Scott Ellis: You have classes, and they are open for free.
Bob Gilkison: For the vets, yes.
Scott Ellis: For the vets.
Bob Gilkison: Yes, sir. We have expanded it to include spouses and kids, a certain. I think 10 is what we’ve set it. We want a certain age level to allow some freedom for the kids to join. We’ve had a lot of veteran parents bring their kids, and it’s a fun little family experience and not something you normally would’ve thought, but it’s turned out to be a really neat experience. Yes, we provide it for free for the veterans. We give a little bit of exposure to a little bit of everything.
Scott Ellis: Very good. When did you guys start that program?
Bob Gilkison: December. I think next week will be our third month. We started it in … What is that? October.
Scott Ellis: This is going to go on into 2017?
Bob Gilkison: That’s correct.
Scott Ellis: The first Friday of every month.
Bob Gilkison: That’s correct.
Scott Ellis: Do people need to make reservations? What’s the best way for them to get-
Bob Gilkison: The Sci-Tech website. It’s called MindStretchingFun.org. There’s a link on the website to register. Basically it helps us know who’s going, how many people to expect. We do have to cap it from a space limitation.
Scott Ellis: Sure.
Bob Gilkison: If we know you’re coming, we’re excited. We’re ready to facilitate learning and fun.
Scott Ellis: That covers the vets and their families. For other big kids, like myself, who might want to come play, what are the options?
Bob Gilkison: We are still working [them 00:10:44]. Since the space is still very new and we are still fleshing out all the programming, we got the kids, we got the vets, we now need to add the next [phase 00:10:53]. We love to hear from everybody that has interest. If you’re looking for guys that want to get together with a certain specialty, we can accommodate you. We don’t have anything laid out formally for just regular Joes right now, but we want to add that for sure.
Scott Ellis: Okay. Hopefully coming some time in the not-too-distant future.
Bob Gilkison: That’s right.
Scott Ellis: Okay, very good. For now I guess I’ll have to wait.
Bob Gilkison: Yes.
Scott Ellis: I have an idea. It’s something I need to go build. I don’t know how to build it. You guys are going to have to open sooner than later.
Bob Gilkison: We can always [call 00:11:28] something. We can get something going for you.
Scott Ellis: Okay, fair enough. We may put together a Lifestyle Frisco event or something and invite some of our listeners and readers to go hang out with us sometime.
Bob Gilkison: Yeah, that would be great. We would love that.
Scott Ellis: [inaudible 00:11:39] a lot of fun.
Bob Gilkison: We also have done some corporate event-type things. The Raytheon Group, they had a corporate event where it was a team-building thing. We used the Makerspace, and it had a maker flavor to it. Everybody had a great time. I did, too. Again, you bring all these different personalities and different walks of life together, and you throw in something that’s foreign to everybody in many ways, is the makering. Makering? Is that a word?
Scott Ellis: I think we just made a new word, you guys.
Bob Gilkison: A new word, that’s right. Doing maker-type activities. Everybody had a great time.
Scott Ellis: Sure.
Bob Gilkison: It was a lot of fun.
Scott Ellis: We touched on … I’m going to back up a little bit, because we touched on a lot of the tools that are back there, very woodworking-centric. You guys have some other pretty neat things that most people are not going to have in their home.
Bob Gilkison: That’s right.
Scott Ellis: Why don’t you tell us about those so that people get a better sense of what else might be there waiting for them?
Bob Gilkison: That’s right. Two of the coolest things any maker-space has to have, one being a laser cutter. It is like a printer, not a laser printer, but a laser cutter. You put in a piece of material, cardboard, thin plywood, acrylic, certain materials, and then the computer file is sent to the cutter, and it will run out the laser and cut you a perfectly precise piece of material. You can do so many cool things with the laser cutter. You can create three-dimensional objects out of flat material, depending on how you cut it. So many options. The other really cool thing that every make-space has to have is a 3D printer. It’s amazing. The 3D printer technology has evolved so rapidly in the last five, 10 years.
We have a really nice one. We can do some really cool stuff with it. Basically for those that don’t know what a 3D printer is, it is a plastic filament that goes through a heated extruder nozzle, and it lays down layer upon layer of a three-dimensional object. Essentially you’re printing multiple pages of a document, but instead of them being pages, they’re layers of an object. They just build upon each other, and then you come out with some really cool stuff. You can model it on the computer, send it to the printer, and an hour or two later you’ve got a really cool object you get to take home.
Scott Ellis: Those are pretty neat. You can do all kinds of crazy things with those and let your imagination just run wild.
Bob Gilkison: Definitely. Exactly. There are so many other skills that go with that, mechanical skills, computer skills, modeling skills, let alone just sending it to the printer and watching it do its thing, which is fun in its own right. My son just loves the 3D printers.
Scott Ellis: How old is your son?
Bob Gilkison: I have two boys, a eighth-grader and a ninth-grader, and they both love the stuff. They’ve helped me many times. At the same time, they say, “Ah, Dad, go away.”
Scott Ellis: “I don’t want to make anything right now.”
Bob Gilkison: That’s just teenage kids, you know?
Scott Ellis: “Fine, go make your bed.”
Bob Gilkison: Exactly. One of these days, they’ll look back and think, “Man, that was really cool.”
Scott Ellis: That’s good for them to have the opportunity to acquire some of those skills and appreciate that.
Bob Gilkison: Definitely, definitely.
Scott Ellis: Good. Bob, thank you so much for your time today. We get very excited about finding things like this in Frisco that not nearly enough people know or hear and peeling that cover back and telling them about it. Also, very thankful to Nelly, who reached out and told us about it so we were aware of your presence and all the cool things you guys have going on.
Bob Gilkison: I appreciate you having me because there is so much to offer in Frisco. It’s booming.
Scott Ellis: It is.
Bob Gilkison: We are so thrilled to be able to provide these things for the community and Frisco. It’s a very exciting time. We’re just grateful for you taking the time to talk to us.
Scott Ellis: You bet. It’s a neat thing you guys have going on. I hope it continues to receive more and more support, and grows …
Bob Gilkison: Thank you.
Scott Ellis: … and gets bigger and bigger because you guys have a great space back there, but I know we could probably fit 10 times more people into these classes if we had the facilities. We’ll do everything we can to help make that happen.
Bob Gilkison: Much appreciated. Thank you.
Scott Ellis: You’re welcome very much. You guys, thank you very much for tuning in again. Be sure to go out to MindStretchingFun.org. If you’re a vet, make your reservation for a First Friday. Come in and make something, and then come back to this episode and leave us a comment. Tell us what you made. I want to hear about it. Send us a picture, and be sure to tell Bob we sent you.
Bob Gilkison: Sounds good.
Scott Ellis: All right, you guys. Thank you very much, and we’ll talk to you next week.