JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The eagerly anticipated FabLab is now open in Vancleave. The high-tech facility officially opened its doors Thursday morning, bringing all the tools kids need to make their design dreams come true.
The FabLab is a digital fabrication laboratory that encourages students and aspiring inventors in the community to play, create, experiment and build their skills. The lab adds an "A" to the traditional STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics -- throwing art in, as well.
The grand opening featured officials from Chevron, Jackson County School District, Fab Foundation and State Department of Education.
"It has just kind of been like a magnet. Boom," said Dr. Barry Amacker, superintendent of Jackson County School District. "Chevron pitched it to the school district and their involvement with the Fab Lab and our school board unanimously got behind it and then a lot of work."
Inside the FabLab, kids will find a wide variety of design stations where they can create nearly anything they can visualize in their minds. Laser engraving technology, multiple 3D printers, vinyl design equipment, an electronic wood workbench – all are inside the tech-forward Fab Lab.
"FabLab is a mobile engineering lab that brings tools to students in our community particularly in three different attendance centers," explained the lab's manager Scott BeBee. "We provide tools to the community like sewing machines, laser engravers, wood routers, vinyl cutters, and 3D printers which helps teachers and students bring their projects to life."
According to Bebee, it's all about introducing kids to new things and giving them the chance to try those things out.
"It's about exposure, the more options, and opportunities you give a kid, the more things you fill their head with, the more options they have growing up to think about, 'What do I want to be; what do I want to do?'" said Bebee. "And if they don't choose engineering – they choose math or art or whatever – at least they had that exposure. They've had those opportunities to see different things."
He continued: "Most kids grow up knowing two occupations, their parents' and their teachers. That's what they're exposed to their whole life. They don't know that there's a wide, wide world of so many other things that you can be, that you can do, that maybe fit your personality, your aptitude, your whatever. We pigeonhole people into these little things and then wonder why they're not happy. It's because they're not doing what they would love because they just don't know it exists."
Taylor Barnes, the FabLab ambassador from St. Martin High School appreciates the creative side of technology.
"Art is a huge part of what engineering is all about," he said. "And that's what we love to see here. We love to see people using their creativity to make things that are beautiful."
The FabLab will be used by students throughout the Gulf Coast, not just those in the Jackson County School District. Homeschool groups have also set up field trips to the center.
A number of summer camps are in the works to be offered this summer, specializing in everything from robotics to electronics to digital design and even spray paint art.
The FabLab also has a mobile unit that was opened at the beginning of the school year. Since then, Bebee said more than 12,000 kids have got to use the traveling technology at schools across South Mississippi.
This is the first-ever FabLab in the state of Mississippi. The Jackson County School District, Chevron Refinery, Jackson County, and the Fab Foundation all collaborated to bring the $1.2 million project to life.
The FabLab is located in Vancleave at 12423 Hwy. 57. For more information on the FabLab, visit their website or call them at 228-826-0181.