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VIDEO: Ellsworth School District receives $25,000 Fab Lab Grant

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UW-Stout Manufacturing Outreach Center Director Larry Blackedge (left), Ellsworth High School technology education teacher Rob Heller, Vice President of Sector Strategy Development in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Lee Swindall, EHS technology education instructor Julie Winegar, Principal Mark Stoesz, and Superintendent Barry Cain pose together after giving their presentation for Fab Lab Day. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

April 25 was proclaimed "Fab Lab Day" by Gov. Scott Walker in the state of Wisconsin, with the Ellsworth School District receiving a $25,000 grant to go towards the creation of a Fab Lab.

Ellsworth was one of 69 school districts to apply for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation grant, but only 21 were selected to receive it. The WEDC gave a total of $494,809 to the 21 school districts.

The maximum amount of money that could be given to schools was $25,000 with two or more districts being eligible for $50,000.

Lee Swindall, the Vice President of Sector Strategy Development at the WEDC, said in his remarks at a press conference at 1:30 p.m. April 25 at Ellsworth High School, the application submitted by the Ellsworth School District was strong and showed great community support.

"The fact that Ellsworth received the nod for this award is an achievement of distinction," Swindall said. "We look forward to seeing the future outputs of this partnership with the community in the years to come."

Swindall said this was the second round of Fab Lab grant funding and looks forward to at least two more future cycles. Walker has set aside an additional $1 million in the budget to complete at least those two future cycles, said Swindall.

A fab lab is a workshop that includes 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control routers, and plasma cutters. Currently, students take a senior level capstone class where they try to invent new mechanisms at Ellsworth.

Rory Holt, Kyle DeGross and Patrick Harrington are seniors who are currently taking the capstone class where they work in groups of two. Harrington and DeGross work together and Holt works with a partner who graduated early and was unable to be at the press conference.

Harrington and DeGross designed a mechanism that would pull out the racks of an oven so people don't have to reach in.

Holt and his partner created a mechanism that would give dogs the ability to open and close doors themselves.

Harrington and DeGross won't be pursuing any kind of commercial opportunities for the mechanism and Holt said he just wants to continue improving his own device for his personal use at home.

The seniors said the funding through the Fab Lab grant will be instrumental to other students that come after them. Harrington and Holt said they can't wait to see their younger siblings get the opportunity to use the Fab Lab.

Ellsworth Superintendent Barry Cain, who is a member of the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce, said the partnership between the chamber and the school district made the grant funding a possibility.

"That partnership, that's the fruition that you see come out of it," Cain said. "People coming together to make things happen versus everyone working independently. We're very, very happy of the support we received in there."

Cain commended the Technical Education teachers and students for the quality of work they've accomplished. Cain said the department has worked with welding and nursing academies to find different ways for those students to further their education and find future careers.

Tech ed instructor Julie Winegar said they started looking into the possibility of having a Fab Lab five years ago. Winegar said she "had tears rolling" after receiving the email confirmation last Monday that Ellsworth would get the grant.

"It's really exciting to be able to see this because we've waited so long for it," Winegar said.

Winegar said that in her nine years at Ellsworth the district has made strides to improve the technical education department by providing multiple digital cameras, a CNC router for the woodshop, several engineering classes, and five Project Lead the Way classes that encourage students to explore careers engineering and biomedical sciences.

The students were an inspiration for Winegar; some seniors were involved with efforts to get a Fab Lab for their entire high school career.

"I tell them, now they're seniors, they have to come back next year to be able to look at it and be able to participate in this," Winegar said.

Winegar said the implementation of a Fab Lab will help students become more acclimated with 21st century technology and "compete with today's society."

Community involvement will be encouraged, according to Winegar. She said they will seek partnerships with the Ellsworth community to use the equipment in the lab and work with the students.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal in December 2016 covering government, school board, and writing features about the community. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism. 

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