[Editor's Note: Because several sessions took place the first and second days of the meeting, this will be a multi-part series of articles. This the part 8 and the final presentation of the sessions.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
In the final presentation of the two-day Interim Legislative Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee meeting in Silver City on Aug. 23 and 24, 2017, the topic was Finding Rural/Plata Studio Makers Lab, presented by Tim Castillo, co-founder of Finding Rural/Plata Studio, associate professor of architecture and associate dean of the University of New Mexico School of Architecture, and Ben Potts, Silver Consolidated Schools director of technology.
Castillo, who is a native of Grant County, has taught at UNM for 15 years. "Three years ago, I talked to (Western New Mexico University President Joseph) Shepard about an economic development project. UNM architect graduate students started working with our colleagues at Woodbury College in San Diego. Stan Bertheaud, a Woodbury architecture professor, Shepard and I wanted to look at a different model. In 2015, we brought students from both campuses and started talking to locals, such as Town Manager Alex Brown and Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Executive Director Priscilla Lucero. Students talked to local and started producing videos on their journey from San Diego and Albuquerque."
He showed the short videos, which encompassed the first video, which was journey, the second showing what they see as place and the third, details, which included people.
"We went back to the drawing board," Castillo said. "Architects tend to be vested in their work. We looked at a brand for Silver City."
He showed another video of the faces of the students who spoke about the project.
"We found a spirit of entrepreneurship here," Castillo said. "We came up with proposals of what could happen to the Big Ditch. We talked about and designed a potential mining museum over the Big Ditch. We came up with a culinary institute, featuring the various foods and restaurants. A water park, I think was the impetus for the Santa Clara Splash Park. We started looking at a Plata Makers Lab. We had to think about the schools, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects and creativity. We talked about whether the makers lab should be in a place or mobile."
In 2016, the professors brought smaller contingencies of students. At Western, they talked about ideas, such as Be Creative, hands-on, family, Mustang, YOU, and "we carried forward the tagline Be YOU. Create YOU."
The students suggested a makers lab, for film-making, video-making. A makers lab where inspiration comes in. A mobile truck, food and/or film creation. "We recommended the makers lab have a 3-D printer, a digital scanner and VR glasses. The wish list equaled $4,800. We looked at potential places, with one being a building next to the Museum Annex. Shepard and Brown have thought about making it a lab. The university wants to have a presence in downtown. It would have different labs, from traditional making, music, sewing, robotics. We got some funding to create kiosks, which we will donate to Silver City. We also thought about different trailers to go to the schools. Brown has committed to buying a van for the project. Ben Potts will use Freeport Community Investment Fund funding for kiosks in the van. A PNM grant could bring in people. We could use the van at the community level and K-12 level."
Potts said several years ago, he moved back to his hometown of Silver City from Las Cruces and Hatch. "I felt like I had stepped back in time. Freeport has a great Community Investment Fund, offering $500,000 to community projects every year. The first year, because I was working at the Silver Schools, I was making sure the computers were up to the level needed by the students. We were transporting teachers to Albuquerque for training, so we created the Copper Country Summit. This year we did Google trainings at Western. Freeport wanted to build a tech center on how to train for the future. We have to train creativity to think outside the box."
Potts said he wrote a follow-up grant, which included the public libraries. "Then I found out about Tim's project. I just brought back 800 computers from Los Alamos National Lab. They are three-year-old computers that will be put in the schools. I have the equipment. I have a grant for a 3-D printer, and can include other schools. We are centered around STEM this year. I want the continuity gap to be filled in the summer. By combining resources, we can get a laser engraver. We will create an Etsy start-up to bring in entrepreneurs for lifestyle, but we need access to science and the telecom need for STE[A]M education."
Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richard asked what the plan is for the use of the materials and access to equipment.
"The teachers at the school sites will store the materials," Potts said. "I can haul the trailers to the school sites, where the students and staff will have access to the printers and engravers."
Garcia-Richard clarified they would be accessed through requests. "Who will train the teachers?"
"We have done some of that already with the Copper Country Summit," Potts said. "Cobre Schools has 3-D printers, too. We are looking at bringing in experts through video. We will do our third summit next year."
To a question about which school districts, Potts said they would include everyone in Grant County, including Silver Schools, Cobre Schools and Aldo Leopold Charter School.
Sen. Bill Tallman asked if they had come up with a creative idea to teach creativity.
"When I graduated high school," Castillo said. "I left, eager to leave, but now I want to come back and give back. The next generation technology affords us the opportunity to grow with information. I hope the makers lab will create ideas, so students stay and make a difference and a business. Create opportunities is what we're trying to do."
Harper said: "That was a cool presentation. I commend you. I love the idea of a space where one can create. When you hit the wall of funding, let us know. Maybe a van is better instead of one place, so you can take it to schools."
Castillo said it didn't necessarily mean not doing the building, too. "We wanted to start with educating students, but the building is still in our vision. It needs renovation. But the trailer gets them hooked. We are recruiting as well. A student can come to UNM and use a robotic arm."
Griggs said: "It's pretty forward thinking stuff. It's important for us to provide opportunities for kids to stay here and bring in others. When they want to leave, they don't think about what they are leaving behind. If you don't provide opportunities, they won't come back. I would like you to contact a company in Santa Fe—Meow Wolf. What you're doing ties into what they are doing and having great success."
Castillo said he appreciates the opportunity. "Our video is to promote our work and to inspire kids."
At the end of the final session, Garcia-Richard said she wanted to thank the folks who set up and provided the very good audio-visual for the legislators.
The next interim committee to meet in Silver City will bring the members of the Interim Water and Natural Resources Committee, who will meet at the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center on Sept. 5 and 6, 2017.