Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation announced May 1 that the Rice Lake Area School District was among 31 public school districts in the state to receive a Fab Lab grant.

Grant funds ranged from $9,700-$25,000, with a total of $693,200. RLASD is one of 20 school districts to receive the full $25,000. The program requires matching funds from each district.

A $500 contribution was also rceived from V&S Construction Services to invest in a new 60 watt laser engraver, advanced 3D printing systems, and a desktop sized waterjet cutter for student use in the Warrior Fab Lab.

"The Fab Lab program remains one of the best ways for students to gain experience in the high-tech manufacturing jobs where Wisconsin leads," Gov. Evers said. "During the current coronavirus crisis, when we've needed quick turnaround for protective gear and other medical devices, those manufacturers have become even more important to our state."

Missy Hughes, secretary and the development corporation's CEO said, "WEDC has invested more than $2.8 million over the past 5 years to provide 77 school districts across the state with the equipment necessary to help students learn high-demand skills including technology, manufacturing and engineering.

"Fab Labs benefit not only the students themselves with important technology and career skills, but they also benefit Wisconsin employers who will be able to find workers with the right skills to allow their companies to grow and thrive."

A Fab Lab is a high-technology workshop equipped with computer-controlled manufacturing components such as 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control routers and plasma cutters.

Applications were evaluated on readiness and long-range planning, curriculum, business

Land community partnerships, financial need and previous awards.

The review committee consisted of UW-Stout experts and WEDC team members. For more details, visit wedc.org/fablabs or follow #WIFabLab on Twitter.

Products from grant funds

Since the onset of the 2019-20 school-year, the Warrior Fab Lab has been located as part of a remodeled STEM wing at Rice Lake High School.

Students have an opportunity to learn how to use the digital fabrication and design equipment in engineering classes offered at the high school as well as integrated into other STEM classes in the district.

Jeremy "Pete" Peterson, the district's Fab Lab instructor, wrote the WEDC grant and many others over the last 4 years to bring the Warrior Fab Lab vision to a reality.

He stated, "I am very excited that the WEDC has chosen us as grant recipient this year! Bringing the fab lab over to the high school this has been a tremendously positive experience for our students, but increased demand for equipment has created bottlenecks in machine time that now can be remedied with additional equipment."

Peterson also said, "The focus of the Fab Lab based classes are focused on utilizing an iterative engineering design cycle to create prototypes to practical solutions aimed at solving community problems. We would like to see this integrated across STEM courses in the district, and not just engineering courses exclusively. It is meant to be a place where students come to prototype solutions rather than mass produce items. Developing the types of thinking and problem-solving skills that come from rapid iterative design I feel is one of the most important things students can learn in high school regardless of their future career or school pathways.

"I am excited to see how we can continue to help connect our students and the Warrior Fab Lab with the greater community."

One of the future goals of the Warrior Fab Lab is to engage in more community involvement with the Fab Lab.

So far, Fab Lab students have been asked to present their end of term design projects to a public audience for feedback, something the public should expect to see more of in the next year in the form of evening showcase events.

The groundwork is forming for a STEAM booster club that would help serve as an advisory council not just to the Warrior Fab Lab, but also assist in funding opportunities for more integrative STEM project opportunities for students across the district.

Community members who would like to get involved in Fab Lab projects should contact petersonje@ricelake.k12.wi.us.

WEDC's Fab Labs Grant Program is designed to support hands-on learning in the subjects of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM).

Fab Labs have the potential to benefit individual students, school districts, the surrounding community and Wisconsin's economy as a whole.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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