Spending a couple hours in a classroom filled with technology that includes 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, vinyl cutters and a computer that can program machines to do special commands on demand, students at St. Joseph’s H.S. in Downtown Brooklyn are actually being integrated into the first installment of learning digital fabrication and computation.
Called the Fab Lab, short for Fabrication Lab, the concept was created by an MIT professor and director of the university’s educational outreach department. The high school’s decision to dive into innovations in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs provided by Fab Lab ties directly into the school’s mission.
“The Sisters of St. Joseph who sponsor the school’s ministry taught orphans how to make lace with their hands in order to support themselves,” said Principal Caroline Latham. “Girls from underserved communities will gain increased access to design thinking, fabrication and computer programming, all through project-based learning.”
As an all-girl school, partnering with Fab Lab and other organizations is a step toward educating the first generation of young women who want to enter STEM-related fields.
Jessica Peters, a senior who attends St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise parish, Crown Heights, wants to one day be a biomedical engineer.
“Learning digital fabrication and other technological processes definitely empowers me to be the best that I can be,” said Peters. “I have a passion for engineering, which is a male-dominated field, creating great challenges that I will work my hardest to overcome.”
Helping lead the program is a faculty member whose magnetism with her students seems to draw interest and fascination with opportunities the Fab Lab offers.
“The most beautiful thing that this is giving them is a sense of belonging to something and being able to say ‘I can do this,’” said marketing and admissions director, Elizabeth Peralta. “They’re seeing that small pieces that work together help make a huge difference.”
One component of being an official Fab Lab is being able to connect with the larger community of innovators that spans at least 30 countries, which creates a global network of research and invention.
“It empowers me to grow and help the world like printing prosthetic hands that will allow kids without a hand not to feel different in society but ‘cool,’” said Samantha Acosta, a junior who attends St. Martin of Tours parish, Bushwick.
With the official opening of the Fab Lab in March, the possibilities for the students can be as big as their imaginations can take them.