In Northern Virginia, a project that started 10 years ago as a small group of friends renting a space to share tools has developed into one of the largest makerspaces in the country, with a new 38,000-square-foot facility, and educational programs serving thousands of artisans, engineers, and families in the Washington, D.C. region.
The organization is Nova Labs, and its offerings encompass after-school programs, a competitive youth robotics program, summer camps, adult classes, community events, and a small business incubator. Over 400 families have memberships, giving them access to the 3D printers, laser cutters, and other high-tech tools in the makerspace. This fall, a team of instructors hosted a weekend workshop for teen girls to learn welding, woodshop, and metalshop skills.
During the worst of the pandemic, Nova Labs even hosted a “makerschool” pod with about 25 students from grades K-6, said Board member Kathryn Schiller, whose children attended. The curriculum emphasized learning and playing outside, and hands-on lessons in STEM and the humanities, pioneering a new model for a full-day school program held within a working makerspace
The after-school program and community classes are led by area experts and professional educators, including Patrick Waters, an accomplished woodworker who teaches technology in a local public school, and Fabiana Cesa, who teaches film and math at Northern Virginia Community College. There are courses for students across grades K-12, and they offer need-based scholarships.
“Our classes are about meeting the kids where they are, designing curriculum that’s engaging, and offering hands-on, experiential learning,” Waters said.
After their former home in Reston was slated for redevelopment around the Metro station, Nova Labs made the leap to purchase a permanent home with support from the City of Fairfax, GO Virginia, Google, and the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia. The new building will allow Nova Labs to serve even more students. They are open to a range of possibilities, and are exploring new partnerships with local schools and businesses.
“We’ve transitioned with COVID and the move to a new space, and we’re excited about what the future holds,” said Executive Director Derrick Washington. “We see every day just how many opportunities are being created for young people in the skilled trades, and we’re eager to meet the demand. The maker mindset is about creativity, exploration, and problem-solving, and those are the skills that will make the next generation a success.”