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Aspiring inventors and northern Santa Barbara County creators have a new tool at their disposal, thanks largely to a $350,000 grant from the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office.

Last summer, Hancock College received the state funding to build a community-oriented makerspace — a creative, do-it-yourself space for people to gather, create, invent and learn.

Working in partnership with the Santa Maria Public Library and the Discovery Museum, Robert Mabry, associate professor of machining and manufacturing at Hancock and one of the shepherds of the makerspace initiative, said the project was one of 24 across the state to receive funding.

"We got the largest amount that was possible primarily because our proposal included a partnership with the library and Discovery Museum," he explained. The program received $40,000 last January to demonstrate the viability of the three-pronged community partnership. 

After a weekend of maker events last May at Hancock, the library and museum drew roughly 2,000 participants, the program was greenlighted for full funding.

Offering dedicated makerspaces at Hancock's Santa Maria campus, pop-up events at the library and museum and a mobile makerspace for northern Santa Barbara County schools, Mabry said the program is well on its way to success.

"There's a tremendous amount of interest in the project," Mabry explained. "It's got an interesting sort of synergy. We're talking with young children in the Discovery Museum, K-12 [students] through our mobile makerspace and all the way through adulthood with our stuff at Hancock and the public library."

At Hancock, the makerspace has transformed into an interdisciplinary program, serving students and professors across a variety of departments.

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"We have faculty from the fine arts, culinary arts, industrial technology and the library's learning resources department all utilizing the equipment," Mabry said. "These spaces aren't just for Hancock students, but for the whole community. We want to build a community of practice."

Mabry called the program's accessibility and openness one of its largest selling points, touting its efforts to democratize the education and manufacturing process. By providing community access to pieces of equipment too expensive to normally purchase, namely 3-D printers, laser engravers and computer modeling software, community members will be able to learn and do outside of a conventional classroom environment. 

"People have trouble sitting in a room listening to a teacher talk for two hours," Mabry said, explaining that there are other ways to learn. "When you make something, you take an idea and attempt to make it. If it doesn't work, you go through the process of analyzing why it failed."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga


Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.