MIDDLEBURY – The Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center welcomed The Maker’s Faire for the first time to their annual Open House last Thursday, Feb. 15. Students and community members gathered at the Center at 51 Charles Ave. in Middlebury to learn about future career pathways from the visual arts, engineering and sustainable agriculture, to culinary arts and ‘making.’ The event, coordinated and organized by a committee of career center faculty and administrators, including Interim Superintendent Dana Peterson, educators, makers and community members, was part of an effort to encourage community engagement and access to the facility and its resources.
The “maker movement” is a homegrown, DIY movement, encompassing a broad range of artistic, technical, and creative interests. “Being a maker is either for love of art, love of creation, or just wanting to change your own fortunes through making things and creating things to make your or someone else’s life better or more beautiful,” said Devon Karpak, a Career and Tech Ed instructor and a member of the organizational force behind the event last Thursday.
“There’s so much cool stuff going on in people’s garages and their small businesses and their hobbies,” said Karpak. Though the Open House at the career center has been going on for years, he explained, making and technical education are not often emphasized as career pathways. “Bringing them out into the light at a Maker’s Faire is kind of what the impetus for this [event] was,” he said.
“A lot of this is self-taught,” said Jim Randall, an animatronics artist hailing from Massachusetts and one of the makers at the fair. “This is the first time I’ve done a maker faire but I’ve been to other conventions in the past, which are really helpful for this line of work.” For Randall and many of the other makers at the fair, this was an opportunity to showcase their labors, network, and participate in an exchange of ideas and creativity.
During his budget address on Jan. 23, Governor Phil Scott emphasized the need to retain Vermont’s workforce. “A shrinking workforce creates a downward spiral,” he said according to Seven Days VT. “With fewer workers we have less revenue and the state becomes less and less affordables.” With baby boomers reaching retirement age, one of the lowest birth rates in the country, and a low unemployment rate indicating low supply of labor, many fear that Vermont is set up for this ‘downward spiral.’
However, the Census Bureau reported in 2017 that Vermont saw its first population increase since 2013. “As an education and training organization we need to be giving the workforce what it needs,” said Kate LaRiviere, Instructional Coach at the career center, “so, I see us as very much a part of the workforce development.” LaRiviere contends that a large goal of the center is to maintain and develop this workforce locally by helping students make connections in Vermont.
“I’ve got to figure that even if they go out of state for college they could come back and feel like they had a connection in the industry,” she said. The addition of the Maker’s Faire at the Open House is more inclusive to adult education; it acknowledges that a portion of the workforce is self-employed and self-taught. LaRiviere explains that the center hopes to make its resources and facilities available to a wider audience. “The Maker Movement is about democratizing creativity and giving anybody who wants to make something a spot to do it,” she said.
“There was a point where woodshop and metal shop and all that stuff, that was just part of growing up in high school,” said Karpak. “It didn’t matter if you were going to college or if you were going right into the workforce or somewhere in between.” Over the years that vein of programming was cut, and Middlebury was not exempt from those cuts, Karpak explained. Woodshop, metalworking and making education in general transitioned elsewhere. “But people still have the desire and the need to create and be inventive,” he said.
Another goal of the Maker Faire was to assess community support for the creation of a more permanent ‘maker’s space’ in the career center or another location in downtown Middlebury. The space would be accessible to residents and students of all ages in Addison County. “Maker’s Spaces are really cool,” said Jake Burnham, an Engineering and Architecture Instructor from Cornwall, Vt. and another member of the group working towards the creation of the maker’s space. “They are what our primary education should be based on. Maker’s Spaces are just little creative engines that provide the freedom to explore with materials and tools.” Burnham emphasized the importance of experiential learning in the success of education and maker’s spaces to facilitate that.
“The idea is that if we found a way to open the career center to the community so that they could understand what resources are in this building, said LaRiviere, “there would be a greater appreciation and potentially greater access for people to this building.”
Peterson reported in the Addison County Independent that the initiative has received a lot of support and is far ahead of schedule. Karpak is hopeful about the possibility of the establishment of a maker’s space. He believes that it would not only improve access to the resources that inventors and creators need to work but would also facilitate an exchange of ideas and innovative growth. “I think the community’s response has been and will continue to be largely positive,” he said.
Karpak hopes to see a maker’s space either at the career center or somewhere else in town within the next ten months and possibly a space open temporarily once a week within the next couple of months. “Vermont has an immense entrepreneurial spirit that lives in barns and garages. My hope and the reason that I got involved in this is because I think Middlebury has the capacity to retain what makes it unique and amazing.”
Learn more about the Hannaford Career Center and available programming and resources at http://www.hannafordcareercenter.org/.