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Redefining the Future 

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

We recently cut the ribbon to our Fab Lab ICC expansion building, an additional 7,000 square feet of maker space. It includes the "Entrepreneurs Bullpen" an open collaboration business incubator and the Equity Bank Digital Design Studio for our wide and 3D printing, vinyl cutting and electronics lab. A large shop will provide space for two or three welding stations, a paint booth and some large work benches donation by Kustom Signal in Chanute. 

The ribbon cutting coincided with our fourth birthday. What started out as 1,800 square feet of maker space has grown to 15,000 square feet in four years; we believe it to be the largest maker space in markets of 50,000 or fewer people. 

Surprising Growth in Four Years 

People sometimes ask how we've grown and accomplished so much in 4 years. What has happened here surprises all of us. I believe we're just now starting to figure it out. For one thing we've had a lot of help along the way but it's still amazing. 

In the beginning, we looked at our mission as helping people learn to make things; not only serious, high tech prototype things for business, but also fun things. Soon after we opened, we began to see the positive psychological effects of making things. Some people were affected in small fun ways. For some people the effects were life-changing. 

We saw improvements in self-efficacy, a self-empowerment sort of self-confidence leading to better problem solving ability. Self-efficacy doesn't separate work and career from family and personal life. Thus self-efficacy affects all aspects of one's life. 

About 2 1/2 years ago we changed the way we thought about our mission to one of improving the self-efficacy of those experiencing Fab Lab ICC. It was also about this time, in March of 2016 we first wrote our vision for a new facility in the form of an open letter entitled "What We Would Do with $500,000" (I wish we had titled it "What We Would Do with $1M.") 

A Change in Mission 

When speaking of self-efficacy, most of the time we have to stop to define it as a special kind of self-confidence. In further pondering of this mission of increased self-efficacy, it is now clear that self-efficacy redefines what people see in their future. Some see the future only slightly different, as one where they can make and do things they didn't know they could do. For others, the redefinition is profound. 

Here are but examples of what we've observed. 

    * A grandmother who didn't think she could learn the machines, makes etched glasses for her granddaughter's wedding rehearsal dinner. 

    * A college athlete felt isolated among his peers because of his aspirations realizes that people in a Fab Lab have aspirations. Not everyone settles for what they are dealt. 

    * A marketing professional launches her own business after losing her job as the local hospital closes. 

    * A cosmetologist who thought she only knew about hair makes her own exterior sign and window vinyl to better promote her business. 

    * A developmentally challenged young man transitions from introvert, hating computers to extrovert, especially when designing his next project. 

    * A GED graduate works his way through the product development cycle of a new kind of interlocking building block. 

    * A downtown business owner saves hundreds by making and installing his exterior sign letters and graphics. 

    * Ninety middle school girls at STEM camp discover they really do like math and science. Many see a future potential they didn't see before. 

    * Two full-time working women first decide they should be showing other women how to use the Fab Lab then got so busy with custom work they buy their own laser and printer. 

    * A farm mom fulfills customer orders for several months in the Lab before remodeling her home to accommodate her new laser, then remodels again after running out of room. 

Funders, foundations, government agencies and others trying to make the world a better place like seeing these changes in the way people think; kind of an entrepreneurial mindset, helping people of all ages and all walks of life become better problem solvers. When they see what's happening here, they want to share resources to help us continue. 

Some have called me "visionary." While it's true that I believed if we built a Fab Lab, people would come and use it, there's no way I could have envisioned what has taken place in these four short years. Lesson: Make your plans, dreams and aspirations flexible. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  


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