This Cross-Sector Group Will Support the Future of Maker Learning in Southwestern Pennsylvania – Digital Promise

This Cross-Sector Group Will Support the Future of Maker Learning in Southwestern Pennsylvania

October 23, 2023 | By

On Sept. 21, 2023, Remake Learning’s Maker Learning Collaborative working group kicked off their convening at the local community makerspace, Protohaven. Four different affinity groups—K12, hgher education, out-of-school time, and industry—were brought together to form the Maker Learning Collaborative working group to map out robust, accessible maker opportunities in every community in the region to empower people to pursue creative pathways that positively impact their own lives and the broader community. Kelly McNeil, learning experience designer with Digital Promise said: “It’s really important that makers in the individual affinities are able to think about how to improve the maker educational ecosystem together, and take advantage of the interconnectedness between the groups, leaning into the support where K12, higher education, industry and artistry intersect.”

Educators and community members sit around work tables in the community makerspace Protohaven watching a slideshow presentation on Maker Learning given by Nina Barbuto.

Members of the Maker Learning Collaborative listen to Nina Barbuto discuss ideas on the future of Maker Learning in the Southwest Pennsylvania region.

Educators, artists, and business leaders were excited to come together to build upon the existing work of the State of Maker Learning in SW PA report, and lay a foundation for work to create a new publication for the vision of maker learning in the region for the next 10 years. “It was great to see folks meeting each other across the affinity groups to learn what else is out there and how it could lead to partnerships that benefit the learners/makers they serve. By assembling the affinity groups and providing them an opportunity to collaborate across sectors, we were able to witness the sparks of opportunity, shared values, and abundance across the Remake Learning Network,” shared Nina Barbuto, Executive Director and founder of Assemble and local lead for the Maker Learning Collaborative.

The convening kicked off with a deep dive into each affinity group’s ideation process. In their time together, the working group will collectively map out needs, opportunities, assets, potential solutions, and connections across the collaborative and the region that can be leveraged to influence the state of maker learning in a positive direction, enhancing student and community outcomes with makerspaces. This work will culminate in a new guiding document released in spring 2024 that maps out what the future of makerspace education will look like in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, and action steps for how to get there.


Participants enjoyed fellowship and delicious food from local food artisan, ShadoBeni, serving Trinidadian vegan fare. No convening of makers would be complete without something to make, and everyone tried their hand at screen printing with the support of the artist-run nonprofit print and imaging organization, Artists Image Resources (AIR). All attendees screen printed tote bags before settling into the brainstorming at hand.

A woman is standing at a table watching the screen printing process of paint being squeegeed through a screen with the Maker Learning Collaborative logo onto a natural canvas tote bag.

Stephanie Lewis gets to play with screen printing designing a bag with the Maker Learning Collaborative logo with help from Artists Image Resources.

Stephanie Lewis, director of relationships at Remake Learning, shared a history of the Remake Learning organization and its role in supporting the Maker Learning Collaborative. Nina Barbuto, the collaborative local lead, presented the context for the working group and a vision for how to approach the work in each group over the next few months. Nick Schiner, director of peer to peer professional learning at Digital Promise, walked through the State of Maker Learning in SW PA report, a publication featuring past Maker Learning Collaborative work.

A group of people standing around a table with chairs, discussing a sticky note whiteboard attached to the table.

Business leaders and educators in the Maker Learning Collaborative discuss ideas for goals, solutions, and asset mapping after sticky note brainstorming sessions.

Affinity group leaders, Nate Broadus of Catalyst Connection (Industry), Samantha Schmitt with Falk Laboratory School (K12), John Balash of the ETC at Carnegie Mellon University (Higher Ed), and Zena Ruiz with the YCreator Space at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA (OST), facilitated working sessions with their groups. Industry and K12 groups alike shared what is most important to them: the need for a diversity of students to be able to see and work with role models who look like them. Out-of-school-time artists talked about the need for empowering students and parents to try new things in afterschool programs. Higher education members shared synergies with resources and events from local universities that could support maker learning with younger students. A call to action for all of the groups is to challenge and reduce the effects of racism by making access to [maker] technology more equitable for BIPOC youth.

Affinity group meetings will continue over the next few months, providing ample opportunity for these educators and advocates to come together. Coop, an out-of-school time educator from Boot Up at Community Forge, was emphatic in his desire for these opportunities to continue: “I think we need to keep doing this stuff, the love in the air with a room full of like-minded educators like that is really restorative—and we do really emotionally draining work, so that’s really needed.”

The Maker Learning Collaborative will be releasing additional events for networking, community building, sharing, and collaboration over the next few months. Learn more about Remake Learning’s Maker Learning Collaborative, and be sure to check out Digital Promise’s resources for maker education, Maker Learning Leadership Framework.

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