The wheels of creativity were turning for nearly 60 juniors and seniors from Lincoln Public Schools as they toured Nebraska Innovation Studio on Oct. 20.
As Jerry Reif, assistant director of NIS, led small groups through the studio, some students were impressed with the laser cutters, others wanted to know more about metal working or screen printing, but all were in awe at the possibilities.
The high school students comprise the inaugural cohort of Bay High, the newest focus program for Lincoln Public Schools, in partnership with the Bay and its parent company, Rabble Mill. Bay High offers a curriculum with an entrepreneurial and creative bent, so the field trip to NIS was a perfect fit.
It also was a first step in exploring how a possible partnership between Bay High and NIS might work, allowing students to utilize the space during class and off-hours to complete projects, build a business, learn design software and more.
“Right now, it’s an idea, and we’re looking for input from the students because we want to know how it would work best for them,” Reif said. “We’ve never done anything like this before.”
Reif and David Martin, NIS director, have had preliminary conversations with Bay High leaders over the past year, but the August announcement of a $25 million Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant made a partnership much more possible. NIS will get $4 million from the block grant to add staff and new equipment.
“Thanks to the grant we received, we will soon have more capacity to do this,” Reif said. “One of the pieces of that grant is to help grow Nebraska’s workforce, and that really starts with training and educating our youth.”
Having access to NIS for the students would be “huge,” said Bay High instructor Brent Jarosz.
“Being able to come here and complete a project would be awesome for our students,” Jarosz said. “These kids are entrepreneurs. They want to hustle and make money by making things and getting their hands dirty.”
Another benefit of utilizing NIS is the knowledgeable creator community that could work with students. As Reif noted when one student asked how long it would take to get trained on screen printing, NIS members are almost always willing to help fellow creators learn a new craft or improve.
“Within a week, we can have you going on something, because if we don’t know how to do it, we have a member who does and we’ll match you up with that person,” Reif said.
Discussions will continue, but Reif said he hopes to have an agreement in place for Bay High by fall 2023 at the latest.