In a shared, 600-square-foot room in the East Bay Met School in Newport, the ambitious, business-focused education program known as FabNewport is entering its second year of operation.
Founded by Met teacher Steve Heath with grant money from The Rhode Island Foundation, as well as the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, FabNewport pairs technology specialists with tech-hungry students, and gives them real-world experience intended to make them self-motivated learners who can enter the manufacturing sector as viable, possibly even prized, workers.
The program grew from Heath’s exposure to a “fab lab” (fabrication laboratory) at AS220 in Providence about four or five years ago. Heath knew as soon as he saw the tools being used that he would return.
“I brought students up, and you could see their faces light up instantly,” Heath said. “The first tool that we used was the laser cutter. The kids liked it, and within a couple of hours we were making things that were interesting. We were etching into glass and into cardboard to make signs and to carve decorations into drinking glasses. I made a sign that I thought was pretty cool, and everyone was just like, ‘Wow, can we do that again?’ ”
The idea of fab labs originated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, specifically the Center for Bits and Atoms, where the operative ambition is learning “how to turn data into things, and things into data.” For the original fab lab at MIT, that can mean creating beautiful, latticed structures for use in larger engineering projects (among other things).
For FabNewport, turning data into things can mean something as simple as producing a vinyl sign.
That was just what happened when Ian Manning, owner of OrthoCore Physical Therapy in North Kingstown, admitted the need for a sign.
“I’m at a strip mall,” Manning said, “and people walk by my door all the time. Steve … mentioned that they could help me with a sign.”