The Idaho Out-Of-School Network and University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development are deploying 12 mobile, pop-up makerspace trailers in rural and underserved communities with help from the Idaho STEM Action Center, Idaho State Department of Education, Idaho Division of Career & Technical Education, Gizmo-CDA, and private partners.
The collaboration unveiled its first five trailers, called Think Make Create (TMC) Labs, at the Caldwell YMCA last week. The Treasure Valley YMCA is one of four organizations in the region and among 12 throughout Idaho receiving a fully stocked TMC Lab.
Four trailers are bound for North Idaho, two are headed to Eastern Idaho, and one is headed to the Magic Valley along with a box truck that’s also been converted to a TMC-branded mobile makerspace. And there is sponsor interest in finding at least four more communities for labs.
Project leaders emphasized it would not be possible without generous assistance from private partners, such as Battelle Energy Alliance, Micron, Optum Idaho, Sparklight, and TrailersPlus.
Claire Sponseller, the UI Extension’s 4-H STEM area extension educator, said the Think Make Create Labs are equipped with hands-on making supplies and tools that allow kids to explore STEM concepts, collaborate, and problem solve. She said the Idaho effort licensed the Think Make Create concept from Beyond School Bells, Nebraska’s statewide after-school network.
“The hands-on, flexible nature of these new mobile makerspaces allow kids to get in there and explore,” Sponseller said. “We really want kids to experience what it means to play and tinker and experiment and fail and try again, and the Think Make Create Labs will create great opportunities for kids to get excited and test out and see what STEM is all about.”
Idaho Out-Of-School Network director Anna Almerico said this summer the mobile makerspaces will engage more than 3,000 children in rural and underserved communities.
“Our emphasis with the Think Make Create program is to help communities that don’t have much access to quality STEM education,” Almerico said. “We’re trying to increase access so Idaho kids can get the best education possible regardless of where they live.”
She anticipates the first dozen TMC Labs will serve at least 8,000 youth within a year of being deployed.
The Think Make Create Lab project is the Idaho STEM EcosySTEM’s first official initiative. According to STEM Action Center interim executive director Dr. Kaitlin Maguire, the project sprang from a chance encounter between Almerico and Sponseller at the group’s first convening in January 2020.
“It’s exciting to see how a network like the Idaho STEM EcosySTEM can be so powerful,” Dr. Maguire said. “In this instance, we had a couple people who just happened to be sitting next to each other at a conference talking about ideas and they came up with one that will benefit students across the state. And we have a variety of partners in the network who realized the value of the project and were able to help make their vision a reality.”
The Idaho STEM EcosySTEM is a network of partners from PreK-12 and higher education, out-of-school educators, business and industry, nonprofits, state agencies, and legislators, with the Idaho STEM Action Center serving as the backbone organization. It works to build awareness of and ensure equitable access to science, technology, engineering, and math education opportunities and careers.
It also seeks to align STEM education with Idaho’s current and future workforce needs, create successful metrics for STEM education and programming, and build momentum for STEM within the state and nationally.
Dr. Maguire said STEM knowledge and skills are important to Idaho’s future, because they’re needed for critical and creative thinking, problem solving, innovation, and collaboration.
“Nineteen of Idaho’s 20 hot jobs through 2026 require STEM skills, and STEM jobs pay about twice as much as non-STEM jobs,” she said. “Among Idaho parents who were surveyed, 99 percent believe STEM skills will play an important role in the future, and within a decade 90 percent of jobs will require digital literacy.”
Visit STEM.idaho.gov for more information, and visit https://STEM.idaho.gov/support-us/foundation to make a tax-deductible donation to the Idaho STEM Action Center Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, to enhance the investment the state has made in Idaho’s STEM community. Contributions provide greater access to STEM camps for children, student competitions, and many other life-shaping programs.