Fabricating the Future in Altoona's Fab Lab

Emily Kuhn

Fab Lab in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Image: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Fab Lab in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Image: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

To ensure the U.S. economy can remain competitive with a workforce trained in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), schools across the country are beefing up related programs – and the Altoona school district is no exception. In late October, the district celebrated the grand opening of the Altoona Intermediate and Middle School Fabrication Laboratory, otherwise known as the Fab Lab.

Funded by a $25,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Fab Lab will enable fourth- through 12th-graders to partake in project-based learning endeavors in design, engineering, and fabrication. The projects will encourage students to hone skills considered necessary for success in a variety of growing careers.

“We are proud and excited to be the recipient of this Fab Lab grant,” said Dr. Connie Biedron, Altoona superintendent. “In perfect timing that coincides with our remodeling, this grant enables the district to create a second technology education/fab lab/maker space to provide our students with opportunities to design, create, and see their ideas come to life.”

One requirement of the grant was a match of $8,334 from district funds and grant partners. Financial support came from local businesses, including JB Systems, Northwestern Bank, Applied Data Consultants, and Realityworks, Inc. With these contributions, the district was able to raise $9,000 for the project, which will also fund the purchase of 21st century learning tools. 

According to technology education teacher Jeff Ballentine, the district has a $12,500 commitment match to achieve this year prior to a January grant submission, the majority of which will also come from business partners. Items purchased with this grant for the current school year include a laser engraver, a 3D printer, a vinyl cutter, and Lego robots.

“The need for a highly skilled workforce with talents that meet future industry needs is critical to industry success in our region,” said Timm Boettcher, president and CEO of Realityworks, Inc. and chairman of the Western Wisconsin Workforce Development Board. “The Altoona school district is wonderfully located within an area of highly successful entrepreneurial and technology-focused companies, and the work being undertaken by the district to ensure our youth have the opportunity and incentive to obtain skills is visionary.”

Along with an opportunity to use 21st century learning tools comes the chance to enroll in college courses for credit prior to high school graduation. Current and future courses for dual enrollment with the Chippewa Valley Technical College include welding, metal fabrication, design and engineering, and computer-assisted design (CAD).

“This grant will help us partner with businesses, colleges, and universities,” said Biedron. “With it, we can provide our students with dual credit classes, internships, work experiences, and meaningful job experiences upon graduation.”

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