For Kingston native Brian Jepson, a day at the office usually involves inspiring hundreds of people to become more creative and innovative.
Every year there are more than 100 Maker Faires across the country that celebrate people and companies who create tangible goods, from 3D printers to stuffed bears that teach kids about managing Type-1 Diabetes. Jepson, a publisher at Maker Media, has assisted with several of these events. Jepson’s work in Washington, D.C., in June, however, could be one of the most important steps forward for Maker Faires and Jepson to date.
“I got a text saying to come help down at the D.C. Maker Faire, and I didn’t know right away what was going on,” Jepson said. “When I got there, I met with a person from the National Science Foundation, someone from [The Department of] Homeland Security, and someone from the White House [about Maker Faires].”
Jepson’s nonprofit organization, Revolution by Design, helped create the event at the waterfront at the Navy Yard, which was sponsored by companies like LEGO and Intel. Makers had the opportunity to show off their creations, while kids could build things out of cardboard and LEGOS in the Idea Space D.C. section, watch radio demonstrations and look at a giant pterodactyl made out of bamboo.
“It was a great day,” Jepson said. “I was [home] on my couch looking at my email and up comes an invitation from the White House to go to the White House Maker Faire, with the president inviting all these people to come show off these crazy things.”
The White House Maker Faire was an opportunity for the Maker community to figure out how the government could encourage interest in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – among students and create more jobs for workers and manufacturers.
“One of the first things I did to help was design the badges that were given to every attendee,” Jepson said. “The design was based on [Rhode Island’s] Mini Maker Faires, replacing Providence with the Capitol. I had printed them out on my 3D printer but, because it took me 15 minutes to do each one, I enlisted the help of the local organization AS220, as well as a company called Techshop, to help get them cut. They used laser cutters to cut the other badges.”
The badges, Jepson said, were added to the National Archives after the Maker Faire was over, making them a part of this country’s history. The event originally featured President Obama addressing the Makers on the White House lawn, but with the heat index more than 100 degrees, the address was moved inside and half the attendees, including Jepson, watched from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Despite the heat, Jepson said there were a lot of exciting things happening.
“I presented Bill Nye, ‘the Science Guy,’ with a badge to the event,” Jepson said. “Bill specifically requested a 3D-printed badge instead of a laser cut badge because he likes additive engineering rather than subtractive.”
After Obama’s address, the attendees moved to the ground and bottom floors of the White House for the fair, where people showed off underwater robotics, homemade dough being used as circuits, and even a full-sized 3D-printed sculpture of President Obama.
“For me, what was amazing was these are people that I know from my career at Make and doing years and years of Maker Faires,” Jepson said. “Some of these people I’ve known since they were really, really young. I’ve watched them grow up.”
“It was a validation of all we’re doing at Make and all Maker movement is doing in the community, and what its relevance is to the future of America and the economy and education is going to become.”
That relevance, Jepson said, is twofold: getting younger people involved in Maker keeps them involved in STEM studies, creates diverse educational opportunities and ultimately creates more jobs through manufacturing and development. Or, as Jepson puts it, “Today’s attendees are going to be tomorrow’s Makers.”
Nationally, they hope to increase Maker Faires in size and scope, gradually adding educational events and workshops with more hands-on activities. Locally, however, Jepson is helping organize the sixth annual Rhode Island Maker Faire, scheduled for October 11 in downtown Providence.
“In some ways, we’re at a phase where the growth is organic,” he said. “We don’t know where it’s going to go next.”