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Additional Funding to Allow an Expansion of School Fab Lab Plans

The Antigo school district received a $18,300 grant Tuesday to expand its fabrication laboratory facilities.

The award was one of over $500,000 in grants given to 22 school districts across the state in a day-long marathon of school visits and celebrations known as Fab Lab Day.

“We’re proud of our school and the programs we’ve made,” Tom Zamzow, high school principal, said in opening the program. “This fab lab facility is becoming one of the featured areas in our school district.”

That quickly became evident when students Hannah Zenkovich, a senior, and junior Isaac Cochrane came forward to explain how the lab has aided their education.

Zenkovich, involved in the advanced graphics program, discussed how the equipment is used to create everything from marketing tools to three-dimensional lake plaques.

“It provides us with lots of real-world experience,” Zenkovich said. “It’s a great thing to have and we love working in here.”

Cochrane discussed how the lab has boosted Red Robin Machining.

“This is a good addition to the school,” he said.

In announcing the grant, Vincent Rice, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation vice president of sector strategy development, said it was an exciting day.

“I’m looking forward to coming back in a year and seeing what else has been accomplished,” he said.

Another guest, Dr. Keith Montgomery, University of Wisconsin-Colleges North Region regional executive officer and dean, said that it is crucial that students have hand-on learning opportunities, something fab labs provide.

“These labs area fabulous start on the road to higher education,” Montgomery said. “Congratulations to the Antigo school district on a successful grant.”

Don Sidlowski, who almost single-handedly created the fab lab concept at the Three Lakes school district and successfully brought the program to students in districts statewide, and Rep. Mary Felzkowski, who championed adding $500,000 annually into the state budget to begin and continue the grant program, also attended.

“Northern Wisconsin brought the fab lab to the state of Wisconsin and it has exploded,” Felzkowski said. “Wisconsin now has more fab labs in its public schools than the rest of the states combined.”

Sidlowski recalled presenting the fab lab concept to the Antigo school board in 2014, and its quick embrace by educators and industry.

“Everyone got it,” he said. “This is going to make a larger pool of labor for everyone.”

A fab lab is a high-technology workshop equipped with computer-controlled manufacturing components such as 3D printers, laser engravers, computer numerical control routers and plasma cutters. A key component is that it has active engagement with the business community, is accessible to multiple departments within a school and community, and is integrated within the network of Wisconsin-based labs.

Antigo’s latest round of funds will be used to expand the district’s current STEM— science, technology, engineering and mathematics—programs into STEAM, with an added component of art, and bring it to elementary level, Dr. Colleen Timm, district administrator, said, calling the award a “hallmark event.”

Mayor Bill Brandt and Angie Close of the Langlade County Economic Development Corporation stressed the training the fab lab provides, and the partnership between school and industry that are key to creating and maintaining a vibrant workforce.

“This is a great opportunity to connect business and industry with our students,” Close said.

Brandt added that the key to a successful community is retaining and growing a vibrant workforce, and programs such as the fab lab, along with business and educational partnerships are key.

“This is what makes us strong,’ he said.

Over the last three years, Economic Development Corporation secretary Mark Hogan said that the corporation has invested $1.6 mullion to provide 43 districts across the state with the type of equipment needed to help students master the skills that are in high demand in the job market, including manufacturing, technology and engineering.

“The fab lab program will better prepare students for life after high school, whether they’re heading straight into the workforce, going to a technical college or attending a four-year university,’ Hogan said.

The corporation received 63 applications, which were evaluated based on readiness and long-range planning, curriculum business and community partnerships, financial need and previous awards.

Source: Antigo Daily Journal