A majority of the adults could not make heads or tails of the advanced technology featured at the brand new Richmond Fab Lab at Kennedy High, which had its grand opening on Tuesday.
Thankfully, local schoolchildren were on hand to explain the modern equipment that make traditional woodshop classrooms look like, well, child’s play.
Community members, leaders, educators and brilliant young students from the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) marveled Tuesday at the size and scope of the Richmond Fab Lab, the largest digital fabrication lab on a K-12 school campus in the U.S.
The brand new innovative learning center, which took two years to build and is fully funded by Chevron in partnership with the school district and the Fab Foundation, will allow district students as well as community members to innovate, design and produce pretty much anything using advanced technologies such as 3D printers, laser and vinyl cutters, a mini-mill and more.
“We had a hammer, a saw and a paint brush,” Butt quipped. “Clearly we have come a long way.”
At the grand opening, students from elementary through high school demonstrated how their ideas can transform into physical reality inside the Fab Lab. For example, they designed and built spring-gear toy race cars from scratch before running them on a track. They also assembled a simple circuit board using a Vinyl cutter as well as cardboard models of a dinosaur in multiple sizes.
The students say they have heaps of fun during the design and creation process, while educators gushed at how much kids are learning about important principles of science, math, engineering and technology.
“It seems like you are doing something cool, but you are sneaking in [education],” said John Iwawaki, the school district’s science coach.
For example, Iwawaki said, an Oakland Raiders key chain that was designed in the new Fab Lab taught students about design, temperature, density and other important lessons. That the lab provides a fun avenue for learning “not only keeps kids in schools, it builds careers for them,” Mayor Butt added.
Richmond High senior Humberto Melendez said the technology will give him a leg up during his pursuit of a career in mechanical engineering, adding funding to create such a center is not easy to come by.
With the Fab Lab in mind, district educators are drawing up lesson plans for every grade level in the district, hoping to inspire the next generation of scientists, mathematicians and engineers starting from a young age. A mobile Fab Lab traveling in a trailer truck will bring the technology to local school sites and community centers. District students are teaming with the Richmond Art Center to design the logo that will wrap around the truck.
Local innovators, makers and other groups from the community will also have access to the Kennedy High facility, the district said.
Chevron funded the Richmond Fab Lab as part of its mission to increase opportunities in STEM education (science, math, engineering and technology) at U.S. schools. Since 2010, the company has invested $140 million in education partnerships and programs across the nation, many of which are aimed at inspiring interest in STEM subjects in order to prepare students for the jobs of the future.
Tom Torlakson, the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, called the Fab Lab “special, unique and wonderful” and praised Chevron for being a “solid rock of support” for ongoing investments in education. Recent investments include the $35 million Richmond Promise program to offer local students college scholarships and ultimately create a college-going atmosphere in the city, as well as the Chevron Fuel Your School program, which forwards a portion of revenue at gas pumps during the month of October toward the purchase of school supplies and other items requested by local teachers.
“We rely on a STEM-educated workforce,” said Alan Davis, operation manager of the Chevron Richmond Refinery. “We believe a facility like this will help students learn skills to solve real world problems. This is also part of our commitment to this community, which we’ve been a member of for 113 years.”