Wood, pliers, glue and gumption: Rutland County’s MINT makerspace has spent the past five years getting its footing and growing its programs, and now could bring a state-wide award back to Rutland.
Karen McCalla, librarian, mom and executive director of the MINT makerspace, has been nominated by an anonymous fan for Vermont Technology Alliance’s vote-driven Tech Jam 2019 Tech Champions Award. She will join four other finalists in their quest for recognition of their community technology programs.
“The panel of people who are finalists are almost always from Burlington,” McCalla said. “So much of the work that we do down here is to try to migrate that innovative thinking and that technology powerhouse kind of stuff down here. And it’s sort of happening.”
McCalla jumped on the MINT bandwagon with the original executive director, Pete Gile, of Clarendon. having always used the makerspace at the Mill River Unified Union School District on a fairly regular basis.
McCalla’s established involvement with local robotics teams and their performances inspired Gile and he invited her to become a member of the newest creative project: the MINT Makerspace.
Having always been a creator and collaborator and regular participant in the Burlington-based Generator’s educator-experiential program, and creative force in the youth robotics community so naturally, she was in.
As the years passed and more opportunities arose for the Maker Space to add more shops, growing to incorporate more varied wood shops, metal working, jewelry-making and even stained glass, and this past year McCalla took over as executive director.
Since its inception, the MINT Makerspace has only served to increase learning and development opportunities for those hoping to change careers, learn a new craft and those hoping to one day attend Stafford Technical Center to turn their hobby or interest into a manufacturing or engineering career.
“It’s just another example of how Rutland comes together to build great things,” McCalla said of the MINT Makerspace and its expansion.
While the MINT doesn’t currently offer certifications, a $50 monthly membership fee allows access to most of the shops, the materials, tools and lessons on how to use them, everything from welding workshops to epoxy river coffee-table workshops where participants can create their own slab coffee-style-table with a “river” of glistening epoxy running through it.
The cost of a table can run in the vicinity of $1,000, but participants can learn how to make theirs for several hundred using the MINT Makerspace equipment.
“The MINT is the most amazing and fun thing you could ever do with your time,” McCalla said.
McCalla said many newcomers to Rutland are excited that the space exists and shocked at the price.
“They say ‘I could never afford to be a part of this (in my hometown),” McCalla said.
The voting ends this Monday, and the finalist with the most votes wins a trophy and statewide recognition for their programs and potential opportunity for collaborations with other agencies and programs.
Tyler Richardson, executive director of the Rutland Economic Development Corp., said the MINT has been invaluable in growing Rutland’s workforce, culture and connection.
“We want people to move to Rutland,” Richardson said. “There’s a big regional marketing campaign, and they’re looking at Rutland. Rutland has a makerspace? That’s huge. That means this is a legit community, people want to be a part of it, it’s fun, it’s a cultural touchstone.”
Richardson said the youth have taken hold of the initiative, creating a prospective future community that intends to stay, to build and to grow their home city.
“We know the careers are here,” Richardson said. “This is giving folks their third space. … It’s building products, building businesses, connecting people. It’s done a lot for Rutland, and we see it as the future of entrepreneurial development and cultural development.”
McCalla goes up against Doug Webster of the Champlain Maker Faire, Kerry Swift of UVM Innovations, Nick Floersch of Code for BTV, and Jane Adams of UVM Complex Systems Center.