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Perkiomen School's Maker Space: the Innovation Center

Perkiomen School created a home for its Entrepreneur Institute in the lower level of its historic and handsome Carnegie Library.  In the 1960s the lower level housed classrooms, but for the last 20 years it was used only for storage.  As the hub of the Entrepreneur Institute, the Innovation Center was a natural fit for this untapped level of Carnegie Library, gifted to the school by one of America’s most influential businessmen, Andrew Carnegie.  

Perkiomen committed to bring the space back to life, with the intent to juxtapose the new innovation space with the traditional learning and library space on the first floor of the building.  In 2016, Architect Richard Myers, a specialist in additions to older buildings, was brought on to ensure the exterior character of the 100+ year-old library was maintained, while also creating a grand, forward-looking entryway to the maker space.  The addition provided the added benefit of providing an accessible entrance to the library.

With a contemporary, industrial-meets-classic design feel, featuring open ceilings and original concrete floors the Innovation Center offers flexible, collaborative spaces to facilitate work in all phases of entrepreneurship - ideation through prototyping through presentation. Furniture was selected to provide the ultimate in flexibility with tables on wheels that can be arranged for group or individual work.  Computer and manufacturing equipment, as well as smartboard and connective technology, puts essential tools at students’ fingertips. The technology and electrical access hangs from the ceiling to promote free-flow working and easy movement.  The Additive Manufacturing Center houses a 3D printing area with nine printers, while an enclosed “Fab” Room provides a dedicated space to work with a vacuum former, 50-Watt laser engraver, and a CNC Mill (computer numerical control). A boardroom where Shark Tank-style entrepreneurial presentations are made and classes are held anchors the front-side of the space.  A small group meeting room, a kitchen, and main work space with seating for 30, adds additional learning and working spaces. The MAC lab, with workstations for 18 and a laptop cart with 22 additional computers, is home to cross-listed courses in art and computer science.

Perkiomen Students work on CNC Mill in Innovation Center

The Institutes at Perkiomen School – with deep dives into Entrepreneurship, Medical Science (added in 2018), and Artificial Intelligence (added in 2019) – allow students to rigorously apply a liberal arts education. As our motto, Solvitur Vivendo, states: Experience is the best teacher.  At Perkiomen our Institutes guide students to interact with and apply the knowledge and skills they learn. Not only do students acquire a deep understanding of the topics they explore, but they also demonstrate heightened engagement resulting from choice and agency in the topics and methods of education. Preparing students today to thrive in the context of the future requires a bold and forward-facing approach to learning. We are sculpting an innovative model based on sound best practices. 

A McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) 2011 report on entrepreneurship indicated that there are three pillars to the platform that enables innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish:  1) developing fertile innovation ecosystems, 2) creating an entrepreneurial culture, and 3) providing sustained financing for new ventures.

Perkiomen’s Innovation Center addresses both the first and second pillars by using the power of proximity to promote student engagement in developing ideas. Entrepreneurial spaces facilitate student access to learning and can provide networking opportunities with local entrepreneurs and innovators. These spaces can also host a variety of student entrepreneur clubs that serve as a resource for aspiring student entrepreneurs and foster a community of like-minded peers. Targeted entrepreneurship education complemented by engaging campus activities brings students and faculty together to share the spirit of innovation. Students and faculty will also form greater ties with local industry and businesses.  In the Foundations of Entrepreneurship course, students partner with local businesses either just starting out, or reinventing themselves. Students will learn about the businesses, hear them speak on campus and/or visit their site, and help to provide solutions to their issues. 

Students are using the space in varied and creative ways:
 

  • Tommy, a middle school student, built an air conditioning unit for his Foundations of Institutes class, taking his first step in the field of engineering. With focus and drive beyond his years, Tommy used Arduino software to successfully code, debug, and test his prototype, resulting in a working model.
  • Garrett and Zach are collaborating on Perkiomen Inscribes, creating custom laser engraving projects, including branded faculty and staff nametags. 
  • Abirami is reaching beyond campus as she partners with organizations in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. Her nonprofit, Eyeducation for You, has a mission to improve the quality of life for school-aged children by detecting and treating vision problems, setting them up for success in academics, athletics, and their careers. Her class, Foundations of Entrepreneurship, is helping her to understand the basics of starting a business.
  • For his senior capstone project, Ali developed an inventory management system to assist his family’s business which supplies paper products to grocery stores. The company moved into a warehouse space almost three times bigger than the previous space, and Ali’s system allowed his family to expand the business without hiring additional personnel, saving the company an estimated $200,000 annually. 
  • Additive Manufacturing students are creating anatomical models for the science department and psychology classes printing 3D models of organs, human, and animal bones.
     

 

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By Bernadette Kovaleski, M.J., Director of Marketing & Communications, Perkiomen School

Bernadette Kovaleski earned bachelor’s and master's degrees in Journalism and Communications and delights in telling the transformational stories of students at Perkiomen School. Her experience includes advancement, development, and communications roles in higher education and the non-profit sector before coming to Perkiomen School in 2016.  

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