May 13 marked Fab Lab Day in Wisconsin as Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and state officials visited schools throughout the state, awarding $520,000 in Fab Lab grants to 20 school districts to enable them to expand fabrication laboratories (Fab Labs), which are high-tech workshops with state-of-the-art industry equipment. 

These Fab Lab grants will allow schools to purchase equipment for instructional and educational purposes in Fab Lab.

“This conversation with Fab Labs started several years ago, and we know Three Lakes has been a really early adopter of this technology and the importance of it,” WEDC vice president of business and community development Barb LaMue said while visiting Three Lakes School District on Monday.

LaMue announced the Three Lakes Fab Lab received a $20,640 portion of the state’s overall funding.

“Fab Labs are more than just school projects, they’re a community effort,” Three Lakes Fab Lab director Dr. Steve Yahr said. “And part of the community that gets involved in doing what we do and supporting us here is not only the WEDC, but our legislative folks.”

Three Lakes was the first K-12 Fab Lab in the state.

“This is where it all started,” representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) said. 

Swearingen said, as the representative of the 34th Assembly, he was fortunate enough to have five school districts which had Fab Labs, including Three Lakes, Florence, Northland Pines, and Lakeland Union High School. Of these districts, two received grants May 13: Three Lakes and the Lakeland consortium consisting of Lakeland Union High School, Arbor Vitae-Woodruff Elementary and North Lakeland Elementary.

The Lakeland consortium was awarded $41,000 during this round of funding.

“We’re fortunate to receive this grant again, for this year,” LUHS interim district administrator Rob Way said Monday. “For LUHS, the addition of equipment will give students the ability to work with tools that they’ll see in industry and allow them to easily transfer schoolwork to paying positions.”

Way said the students at AV-W Elementary School would be able to apply their designs and problem solving skills to real-world experiences.

“The concept fits so well with our focus on science and outdoor education, as well as just our curriculum focus, which is heavily cross-curricular,” North Lakeland Fab Lab coordinator Nathan Breitholtz said. “What’s been really neat for us is seeing how the Fab Lab doesn’t just become its own curriculum program, it’s become a part of a lot of things that happen at school.”

“In the state of Wisconsin we know that not all students are going to go to a four-year college. And if you do, we think that is great,” Swearingen said. “But if you don’t, we’re hoping you take the skills you’ve learn in Fab Lab either to a technical college, like Nicolet College in Rhinelander, or right from Lakeland Union High School right into the work force.”

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at kaylah@lakelandtimes.com.