Oakland Local

The new facilities at Castlemont HS and Laney College. All photos by Eric James Anderson. 

Oakland has a long history as a manufacturing hub, with some curio-highlights like the invention of the fortune-cookie folding machine and the fabrication of Chicago’s reflective bean statue, but nostalgia has little to do with the industrious rise of the local maker movement.

At the heart of the issue is a economic argument about the long term value of these jobs, and a vision of Oakland at the forefront of the advanced manufacturing industry (as opposed to the forefront of the tech-worker bedroom-community industry).

A critical part of realizing this vision is educating an advanced manufacturing workforce. At Laney College, Danny Beesley has been in the thick of it, designing these programs, promoting the use of innovative tools and building pathways for students to find work as skilled technicians of these tools. But updating Laney to create a better vocational pathway only serves people who have already decided that this is what they want to do. So Mr. Beesley is now also helping to develop a “fab-lab” at Castlemont High School.

“The whole purpose of this space is to get people interested,” he said of the Castlemont program. “Engineering and design, advanced manufacturing, and ICT [Information Communication Technology] is this, this is a great exposure tool for those things.”

Chess pieces made by students on this 3D printer

Chess pieces made by students on this 3D printer

This new program bridges the hands-on appeal of shop class, being creative and using tools, with in-depth exposure to technology, including open-source file libraries, 3-D and 2-D design software, and hardware interfaces. Castlemont and Laney are also hoping to develop faculty bridges which will cultivate industry involvement in Laney’s curriculum and Laney faculty involvement at Castlemont, in order to strengthen the career pathway and improve the compatibility of the curriculum.

“It’s about building that chain,” says Mr. Beesley, “there’s lots of companies, especially here in the Bay Area, that need people, and everyone says, ‘we can’t find people to run machines for us.'”

At this point, makers are not just a DIY subculture, they have become the strongest advocates of capitalizing on advances in the technology and affordability of fabrication tools for business applications.

Politicians are starting to catch on. Just last month the white house hosted a makers faire, attended by are very own Jean Quan, and in addition, the California legislature passed AB86 which created the California Career Pathways Trust.

The CCPT dispersed $250 million in one-time grants to K-12 schools throughout the state. This funding is meant to expand career-relevant education programs, and establish collaborative relationships with businesses to improve training curriculum for regional, high-growth industries.

The East Bay Consortium, led by Peralta Colleges (of which Laney is one), secured the largest possible grant from the CCPT, and now has $15 million to focus on its four chosen areas, which, along with advanced manufacturing, include health and biosciences, IT and digital media, and public service and law.

The grants will help expand the fab-labs at Laney and Castlemont, and give them the resources to work with other departments such as culinary, math, science, fashion and theater programs, for which new applications of fabrication technology are being discovered all the time.

While these tools and skills are widely applicable, and are typically seen as secondary skills for designers and engineers, Mr. Beesley sees the program, at its core, as a vocational path closely aligned with the CCPT’s vision of career-relevant training, “the real value is in actually teaching you how to be a technician on the equipment itself… that’s the growing industry piece.”

His work is knitting together several threads of the maker movement, ideas about the joy of being creative, the value of manufacturing jobs, the excitement of fabrication technology and the importance of developing educational opportunities. Ultimately these efforts will benefit not just the students who are able to find jobs, but also schools’ ability to engage student interests, and the manufacturing industry’s ability to find well trained employees.

As Beesley puts it, “3-D printing in education is not about printing plastic widgets, I mean when you look at it and think about it that’s exactly what you’re doing, is printing plastic widgets, but it’s about empowering youth to become active participants in the way the world is created, to empower them to go build something and make something of their own.”

An assortment of 3D printers at the fab lab

An assortment of 3-D printers at the fab lab

A programmable wood carving machine is high-tech, but students still learn to use traditional tools

A programmable wood carving machine is high-tech, but students still learn to use traditional tools

A small project, designed, cut, inscribed and embossed with the Laser printer

A small project, designed, cut, inscribed and etched with the Laser printer

39 thoughts on “At Oakland’s “fab-labs,” shop class is dead — long live advanced-manufacturing class

  1. FAB article! Thank you for helping to frame the need we have in Oakland to work together to make makerism happen especially for our kids! On Monday July 21, 2014 from 6:30 to 8pm Oakland Makers member Mark Martin, also from Laney College’s Manufacturing Industry Department will be hosting a discussion and presentation on “Growing Education, Equity and a New Maker Force”. Oakland Makers is dedicated to growing a diverse creative economy in Oakland…Come join us at IMPACT HUB Oakland 2323 Broadway!

  2. 1. Oakland voters will have a chance in November to sustain-ably fund exactly these sorts of programs, when a ballot measure to expand and improve Oakland Unified’s career pathways approach to education through a parcel tax will be on the ballot.

    2. If Oakland ants to be “at the forefront of the advanced manufacturing industry (as opposed to the forefront of the tech-worker bedroom-community industry)”, Oakland is going to need to preserve land that is zoned appropriately for that use. The West Oakland Specific Plan and the BRT+ recent zoning changes on International Blvd are moves away from that vision.

  3. Pingback: Articles For Oakland Local, July – August 2014 |

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