Fab Lab manager wants to see lab get more use

New Muskogee High School Fab Lab Manager Nick Miller shows some of the simpler items people can make at the lab. He has been manager since Oct. 2.

Laser engravers, plasma cutters and 3-D printers are available again at Muskogee Public Schools Fab Lab — and a new manager is there to help users.

The fabrication laboratory, located at Muskogee High School, closed in April when the manager left for a job in Tulsa.

Nick Miller became the Fab Lab's new manager Oct. 2. He said he wants to get more schools involved with the lab. Miller earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and has worked building steel storage tanks. 

Miller said that while he is not a teacher and the lab is not a classroom, teachers are welcome to bring their classes.

"The teachers can come in here ahead of time," Miller said. "I can work with the teacher directly and create a plan or some type of a lesson. We can create something ahead of time and the teacher can come in here after the fact, with me helping or just guiding. They'll run the lesson."

Fab Lab manager wants to see lab get more use

New Fab Lab manager Nick Miller works with lab technician Lexi Whittle, a Muskogee High junior, on a laser engraver. Miller became manager earlier this month.

The Fab Lab is free to Muskogee Public Schools teachers and students, he said. Teachers and students from other schools can use the lab for a $10 monthly fee, he said. There also are fees for public use.

"There should be learning going on here, whether it's me guiding the teachers and the teachers guiding the students, or me guiding the public," he said.

Muskogee Public Schools Superintendent Mike Garde said the district had several qualified candidates for Fab Lab manager, but officials were attracted by Miller's experience as a mechanical engineer. He said officials also admired Miller's vision for the Fab Lab. 

Miller said the lab's previous manager "did a good job putting this together." 

"I'm tasked with the same objective, but at the same time, they want me to get the schools more oriented, doing projects in here," he said, referring to MPS officials.

"Getting people in here is the hard part, but once they're in here, it's about teaching confidence and skills," Miller said.

Miller said early elementary students might be too young to use the advanced equipment. 

"For younger kids, it's about getting them in here, letting them see what kinds of things are possible, how they may relate back to the community," he said. "We want to get them in here, get the wheels turning, seeing what's possible."

Fab Lab users also apply a variety of educational disciplines in the lab.

"You'll have to know math, you'll learn engineering. Art is even involved in this,” Miller said. “Most of what we do is creative.”

Miller, a Pennsylvania native, said he was introduced to fabrication laboratories while working on his master's degree.

“We used laser cutters and 3-D printers for research,” he said. "Since these labs started popping up, the DIY, the Maker Spaces, I've just always been interested in them."

He said he came to Oklahoma while doing a research program at Oklahoma State University.

Miller said he was particularly drawn to the MPS Fab Lab because of its metal shop.

"We can cut things out on the plasma cutters," he said. "That's where this lab differs from most labs.

Miller said he is working with nonprofit groups and the Port of Muskogee to get manufacturers and businesses involved.

"I'd love as many people to come and use the lab," he said. "Whether they're from visiting states or they're just passing through, or they're local."

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928, @cspauldingMPhx or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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