President Obama Hosts the First-Ever White House Maker Faire

President Obama proclaims June 18 a National Day of Making and turns to Pittsburgh for inspiration.

Well, folks, it’s finally here. The hands-on headquarters, the nucleus of DIY, the faire that eats the old White House Science Fairs alive: the first ever White House Maker Faire.

Along with young makers showing off their projects, today’s faire is part of a nationwide Day of Making. Communities across the country are hosting open houses, volunteering, and celebrating learning through making stuff. (You can follow along with #NationofMakers.)

As the Maker Movement enjoys the White House spotlight, guess where the Obama Administration is looking for incredible examples of making? Yep, Pittsburgh. And rightly so. We’ve been the leading the way in creating a thriving maker community for youth and adults for quite some time now.

Yesterday, President Obama visited Pittsburgh for the third time this year to tour TechShop and announce a new manufacturing initiative that includes giving entrepreneurs access to $5 billion of equipment in research and development facilities. He used TechShop as an example of how increasing access to manufacturing and prototyping tools could boost the economy and encourage innovation. As TechShop’s Elliot Kahn told Obama, “We’re at a point where a person can have an idea at breakfast and a prototype by lunch.”

Mayor Bill Peduto was invited to the White House Maker Faire to help share the regions successes and explore how the White House can propel the movement even farther.

Peduto hosted a roundtable with the leaders of Pittsburgh’s maker community as part of the Mayors’ Maker Challenge. Just looking at the lineup of participants is a good illustration of the making scene, as leaders from the Children’s Museum, Carnegie Library, BirdBrain Technologies, and the Society for Contemporary Craft were all present.

“This is the first time this community has been engaged formally with city government,” Peduto said. “What we start here today is what we take to the next step, and the next.”

It’s great how the city is receiving some well-deserved attention for the making culture it has harbored for years. But Pittsburgh makers know that tinkering doesn’t happen at political press conferences or in the carpeted hallways of City Hall. Neither of these venues has nearly enough hot glue!

Rather, making in Pittsburgh happens in places such as Assemble, a community maker space that is limitlessly creative in how it brings people together.

The MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum is another hub for Pittsburgh’s making world. On any given day, kids and families are “painting” with light, taking apart old technology, or tinkering with magnets and tools the pros use. Last summer, families visiting the MAKESHOP constructed a 12-foot trebuchet that threw the first pitch at a Pirates game.

And it’s not limited to only community spaces. Making has found its way into Pittsburgh’s classrooms, too. At Elizabeth Forward Middle School’s Dream Factory, students are using laser cutters, 3D printers, and microcontrollers to infuse learning-by-doing into the school day. (This summer, the lab is open to students from around the region as well.) And after school, students at Maker’s Place are coordinating their own reclaimed-denim fashion show and bolstering it by learning robotics and HTML.

The city’s start-up community is definitely maker-esque, too. In true Pittsburgh collaborative fashion, innovations from local entrepreneurs often end up back in the hands of young makers. Check out this video of Allegheny High School students using of BirdBrain Technologies’ robots to dive into computer science.

At the national scale, making is seen as a way to deepen STEM learning and invigorate a pipeline of future scientists, engineers, and manufacturers. But on a more individual level, educators here have seen the less-technical skills that making also encourages—skills such as grit, confidence, and communication.

As Assemble intern and all-around maker extraordinaire Caroline Combemale explained to us last year, “I think I kind of grew up a little bit working at Assemble because I became more mature, and really learned how to act around adults. Whereas before I was kind of just this hyper child who just loved to do everything but didn’t know how to communicate with anybody.”

Pittsburgh is packed with ways youth and their families can make, build, and tinker. But anyone who looks to those examples will also see a region that’s harnessed making as only one facet of a connected learning ecosystem. For us, that’s the only type of learning we believe will prepare our kids for the future ahead.

Published June 18, 2014