Two years ago, three creative minds came together to launch an organization that’s changing the Plano community. And just how did they decide who would assume which responsibilities? A couple rounds of Rock Paper Scissors, of course.
TheLab.ms, a makerspace launched by Roxy Dehart, Richard Gowen, and Shawn Porter (pictured above), may have gotten off to a whimsical start, but that’s what you’d expect from an organization that dubs itself a “do-acracy” — meaning if you want something done, you just do it.
Makerspaces aren’t a new concept; the idea of providing educational tools and resources to the public is now seen in libraries and community centers nationwide. Even the White House hosted a Maker Faire last June. But the people behind this learning renaissance in each community are what set them apart.
Enter Shawn, a 10-year Plano resident and self-described technology fanatic who was familiar with the Dallas Makerspace but wanted to launch one closer to home.
“I wanted to start a space here where interesting people could work together on projects,” said Shawn.
Shawn met IT wizards and Plano residents Roxy and Richard at local Meetup groups in August 2013, and the three friends started the all-volunteer nonprofit in January 2014. Designed for those who want to learn new skills such as computer programming or network security but don’t have the resources, TheLab.ms aims to make education available to all through classes taught by community members eager to share their knowledge.
From STEM fairs at Brookhaven College to a robotic programming class at Plano Library, TheLab.ms hosted more than 60 free events in 2014, ranging in size from five to about 40 participants. One of the most popular? A Scratch class taught by an 11-year-old. (For those of us less tech-savvy, Scratch is a computer programming language and online forum where kids can program and share interactive media like stories and animation.)
But it’s not all code writing and virus scanning for this bunch: monthly brew nights, geocaching events, and Cards Against Humanity tournaments continue to be favorites among the monthly lineup. On October 25, the group is partnering with DFW Trebuchet to host the fifth annual SlingFest (think pumpkin-shooting catapults) at Oak Point Park in Plano.
It’s this community-minded, can-do attitude that has sparked a following of more than 320 Meetup members and supporters for TheLab.ms. Though events and classes are free to the public, TheLab.ms offers adults 18 and up a membership, which grants them anytime access to the education center, which just held its ribbon cutting this past Saturday, in the shopping center behind Fishmongers on the southwest side of 75 and Park.
Equipped with 3D printers, computers, video cameras, a recording studio, common workspaces, and more, the center will be the physical home of the organization, and members will be free to visit 24 hours a day, a perk not afforded to the public. Tight on cash? No problem. Those interested can pay for their membership in time instead of money, volunteering at various events throughout the year.
“Think of it as a gym membership for geeks,” said Richard.
As for all of the other makerspaces popping up in DFW and around the country? “The more groups like us that are out there, the better,” said Roxy. “We operate with an attitude of cooperation, not competition.”
Looking forward, the possibilities for the little nonprofit that could seem endless: State-of-the-art video equipment, high-quality productions, internship offerings with local colleges, virtual reality cameras, contributed research — all of this is up for grabs as TheLab.ms chugs along.
Also on the agenda: different spaces for activities that are purpose-driven, so beer brewing would happen in one location, while, say, computer programming equipment would be housed in another space. This idea would be a differentiator among other makerspaces, which typically have one location for all activities.
“There’s a maker movement coming through,” said Richard.
We’re just glad these three made sure it stopped in Plano.
TheLab.ms is hosting an open house of their new education center for the public this Saturday, August 29, from 2-4pm.TheLab.ms Website> TheLab.ms Meetup>