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Professor part of new national organization to support creative 'Makers movement'

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas professor has participated in the founding of a new, national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people be creative while developing new business ventures, creating new technologies, creating art, revitalizing communities, transforming education and collaborating.

Barbara Kerr, the Williamson Family Distinguished Professor Counseling Psychology in the School of Education, will join Nation of Makers' sustainability team. Nation of Makers works with leaders of Makerspacers and makers in all 50 states. It is a grassroots effort that seeks to provide creative people access to space and technology such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and other creative tools to address local and global problems, pursue entrepreneurship and further their education.

Kerr will help lead Nation of Makers' sustainability team.

“My role will be to help coordinate and educate Makerspaces on understanding and identifying funding,” Kerr said. “It turns out few of us involved in Makerspaces are academics with experience accessing grant funding. One of the wonderful things about these spaces are that they cross political lines. They are about economic development and entrepreneurship, and we realize that starts with the individual.”

Kerr will work closely with funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education and others to identify grant and funding opportunities to help provide community Makerspaces, purchase equipment and fund operations. She was invited to the White House in August for the gathering of Maker Organizers, at which the formation of the organization was discussed. The organization will serve and advocate for spaces, events and institutions serving makers, including nonprofit organizations, museums, libraries, science centers, educational institutions, foundations and for-profit companies.

Kerr co-founded the Lawrence Creates Makerspace with Eric Kirkendall, project manager; the late George Paley, downtown businessman, and John Hachmeister, associate professor of visual art. She said the Makerspaces can play a crucial role in encouraging young people to get involved in science, technology, arts, engineering and math, known as the STEAM fields, and enhance their education. Her team has welcomed creative students from Kansas schools to take part in a variety of activities at the space, including collaborations such as coders working with artists to develop new apps and helping young people understand their creativity, all with an eye toward their future careers. The space has begun working with youths on “instructables for neuro art” or what Kerr calls “mind-controlled art and music.”

The youths wear a “hacked,” or hand-built headset invented by a team led by Matthew Walsh, KU graduate of the School of Art, that displays their brain waves on a screen. They see their different types of brain activity, including changes when they visualize taking part in a creative activity they are passionate about. Understanding that creative thinking is a unique brain function helps encourage them to harness their creativity for problem solving and consider how they may apply it to their future careers. The technology is featured in a video by filmmaker Rodolfo Parisi.

“They’re learning about those invisible pathways to a career. They’re seeing adults be creative and making it work,” Kerr said of the youths’ time at the Makerspace. “They’ll learn about using technology and being creative to develop businesses, or build their own apps. And they’re teaching each other.”

The local Makerspace is seeking funding to expand its instructables for neuro art efforts by building more headsets and creativity exploration kits, manuals for how to use them and how to hold similar workshops at Makerspaces across the country.

Nation of Makers has more than 300 letters of support from hackerspaces, makerspaces, companies, libraries, local government and economic development agencies from across the country. 

"Giving more Americans the opportunity to make, invent and create is critical to our future," said Tom Kalil, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "Making can inspire more young people to excel in STEM education, promote entrepreneurship in manufacturing and empower more people to solve problems in their communities."

Kerr, who specializes in counseling psychology, said her work is about helping people actualize their talents and enhance their well-being while making the link between education and the world of work.

“We really want to spread the idea of a Makerspace as a key to economic development, community development and individual creative expression,” she said. “Most Makerspaces are like ours. They started with nothing but a few checks to cover a month’s rent but are giving people a place to be creative and solve problems together.”

Photo: Barbara Kerr, the Williamson Family Distinguished Professor Counseling Psychology in the School of Education in a Youtube video about Makerspace.

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