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Northampton Community College Fab Lab Director Visits the White House

By Colin McEvoy on September 2, 2016

A group photo of the makerspace representatives who attended the White House meeting hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

A group photo of the makerspace representatives who attended the White House meeting hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

When Jeff Boerner stepped foot in the White House, he felt as deep a connection with the makerspace movement as he has ever felt in his life.

“It was the most wonderful experience,” he said. “It just made the movement feel so alive, so real. Looking around at all these makers from all over the country, all of a sudden, it was like, ‘This is really happening.’ I couldn’t have felt more at home with a group of people.”

Boerner, the director of Northampton Community College’s Fab Lab, was among 200 people from around the country who were invited to an Aug. 24 meeting of makerspace directors or organizers organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

This first-of-its-kind meeting allowed makerspace representatives to share experiences and best practices with each other, and hear presentations from government agencies on how to engage the federal government on initiatives and workshops on common issues affecting them.

Located at 511 E. 3rd Street, the NCC Fab Lab in Bethlehem offers open access to state-of-the-art technologies, including a full metal and woodshop, spray booth, 3-D printers, laser cutters, a sound lab, a guitar-making and repair studio, cold casting, and more.

Although this was his first invitation to the White House, Boerner has been sharing his experiences and expertise with labs across the country through events organized by the United States Fab Lab Network (USFLN), a connected network of fab labs who exchange knowledge, ideas, and resources.

The all-day White House gathering included discussions about the Obama administration’s technology initiative, breakout sessions among the makerspace representatives, and discussions with federal officials who handle grants, which detailed the process and gave insight into how to better apply for funds.

Jeff Boerner, director of Northampton Community College’s Fab Lab, in Washington, D.C.

Jeff Boerner, director of Northampton Community College’s Fab Lab, in Washington, D.C.

They also heard from government officials in various federal departments, including Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the Small Business Administration; Vikrum Aiyer, chief of staff of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; and Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer in the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, who Boerner said gave the best speech of the day.

President Barack Obama himself was originally expected to address the group, Boerner said, but he was unable to do so because he was visiting Louisiana to survey the flood damage there.

Boerner believes the federal government is committed to supporting the makerspace movement because he feels grassroots efforts like those will drive manufacturing, rather than from large corporations that can find lower costs overseas.

“People are going to invent things and go out and create products and wealth, and it’s going to happen from the grassroots level,” he said.

The White House expects this meeting to be only the start of the conversation. The event participants are keeping in touch via a central database, Facebook group, and various blogs, according to Boerner.

The Fab Lab has grown consistently each year, adding an average of between $20,000 and $30,000 of new equipment annually. Several new pieces of equipment were installed this year, Boerner said, including a full metal mill, woodworking pieces, new laser equipment, a new 3-d printer, and metalworking equipment like a bandsaw, lathe, and gear-driven drill press.

In addition to the White House visit, the lab is hosting a Fab Lab Boot Camp on November 10-12, during which fab labs from around the nation will visit and observe the facility first hand. That even is being organized by the National Association of Community Colleges and Entrepreneurship (NAACE).

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