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Pop-up makerspace opens in The Gallery at Three Rivers

Norwich — Kyra Monahan and Joaquin Lopez-Watson laughed as they sorted through the wooden bin of white Legos, she assembling a shark-hunting ship and he a pyramid.

The 21-year-olds had gathered in the pop-up makerspace new to The Gallery at Three Rivers Community College.

"I think it's definitely a good way to keep your brain going if you have time in between classes," Lopez-Watson said.

The makerspace includes 50 pounds of Legos, 2,000 wooden Keva planks, and a visual arts station that includes items like toothpicks, bottle caps, bolts, fuchsia and green light bulbs, and googly eyes.

Those who participate are encouraged to create a creature or robot, and the results are akin to the quirky "upcycled" lawn décor found at some craft fairs.

The makerspace had its grand opening mid-day Wednesday and will be up in The Gallery until Oct. 5. It's open to the public 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and anybody with the college can set up another time to reserve the space.

The makerspace is the brainchild of Sheila Skahan, a professor of early childhood education. She was inspired in part by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and in part by Spark Makerspace in New London. She is a New London resident.

"There's too much sitting in rows at this college," Skahan said, "and the notion of active learning is nothing new but I wanted this in a highly visible place."

So she partnered with gallery director Sandra Jeknavorian.

"It's something very different from what we usually do," Jeknavorian said. "Usually we have traditional visual art."

She added that it's exciting to see how different disciplines at the college will use the space.

For example, the math department will use the space to talk about patterns, surface and area. A public speaking class will be doing a "Shark Tank" type challenge that involves making prototypes and speaking about them.

Mike Gentry, an engineering professor who oversees the manufacturing and mechanical programs, uses Legos to teach about load-bearing structures such as bridges and will host a two-week Lego contest.

He said that Three Rivers Middle College is interested in exploring less traditional teaching spaces, and Skahan hopes to also engage local elementary school teachers who are working on makerspaces in their own classrooms.

There also will be a few public sessions in the makerspace. On Thursday at 12:30 p.m., Kem Barfield will give a presentation on Google Tilt Brush.

On Sept. 12 at 6 p.m., Casey Moran and John Curran, both of Spark Makerspace, will give a presentation on building makerspaces in communities. There will be a family night on Sept. 19 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The makerspace was funded through the Three Rivers Foundation.


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