By Jennifer Miller
After Eric Parker graduated from Georgia Tech, he wound up in Silicon Valley, Calif., where innovation, creativity and collaboration made it the technology powerhouse it is today. He saw the quality of life it brought. So when Parker moved back home to Augusta, he decided to bring that innovation, creativity and collaboration with him.
“We have all the ingredients to be Silicon Valley,” he says. By integrating technology and education and how to do business, the momentum builds for a better Augusta.
So he started theClubhou.se, a tech business incubator that helps entrepreneurs develop their ideas and take them to market.
“This space gives them the opportunity to be experimental from a technical aspect,” says Grace Belangia, the co-founder and executive director of theClubhou.se.
Hence, their stated vision: “The vision of our hacker-space is a self sustaining creative technology cooperative workshop that provides people with the space, equipment, instruction, guidance and friendships necessary to tackle any challenge they may face. We believe that the sole purpose of technology is to better human lives, and that through mastery of it, our members can enjoy higher quality of life while also being individually more productive.”
Technology, Design and Business
Accomplishing that means creating a space and programs that foster creativity through education and innovation.
“This is a place to learn about technology, design and business,” Parker says.
Here’s an example: theclubhou.se is hosting a three-week camp for students this summer. The first week each camper will each build a 3-D printer. The second week they each build a robot using parts created with the 3-D printer. The third week they develop and app to control the robot. (Sessions two and three are available for enrollment dates in July.)
And it goes a step further: The kids decide what their robot will do. It might fight, or race, or even sing and dance. They can have names, a personalty or a unique design.
“We just want to take away the fear of the technology,” Parker says.
Mentors work with students, making it more of a community effort.
The Creative Art of Crafting
It’s not just about circuit boards and switches. It’s about the design, which brings in the creative art of crafting, he says. It might be welding, molding, woodworking or 2-D character drawing that incorporates character development and story-telling.
“It’s a blend of new technology and old technology to create that sort of tactile experience,” he says.
The effort is applauded and the environment is set up to encourage skill sets in children that might otherwise be overlooked. The approach is project-based and self-directed so students see what they’re learning.
“There are no tests, no grades. It’s enrichment,” Belangia says.
Quarterly exhibitions let the students show off their projects—drones, 3-D printers, video games, animation and more. Parker calls it a “technology recital.”
Motivation and Interest
Chase Lanier, theclubhou.se’s program coordinator and building manager, agrees. “We work with motivation and interest and finding what they want to do. It may not be what’s expected, but they find a value,” he says.
He uses the example of a program that lets students set up a camera on a computer and access the Internet. To do that, they have to navigate the programming, which interested them since it was a means to the end. That’s building interests on other interests.
Most of the programs are geared toward students, but Parker and Belangia eventually want to expand the programs to include more people. That takes more money, something that’s always in short supply at a non-profit.
Last year theclubhou.se moved to the 180,000 square foot old Richmond Academy Building on Telfair Street that had been abandoned for 20 years.
The space is rough, but has the charm and size to accommodate the growing programs. There’s even a raised organic garden in the back where food is grown and sold to local restaurants—and members learn to care for a garden.
For more information about theClubhou.se, visit their website at www.theclubhou.se or call 706-801-9932. It is located at 540 Telfair St. in downtown Augusta. For imformation about the remaining summer camps for kids, go to theclubhou.se/camps/.
Jennifer Miller is an Augusta freelance writer and mother of two.
This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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