GUEST VIEW: Fab Lab Permian Basin is training the next-generation of workers for the jobs of the future

By Cedric Bleimling

Exactly one year ago, Chevron, Odessa College and the Fab Foundation debuted a Fabrication Laboratory (Fab Lab) — a hands-on learning center equipped with state-of-the-art technology and resources. Located at Odessa College in the Permian Basin, the Fab Lab has been a resounding success — hosting 1,460 students, 480 community members, 178 teachers and 1,320 visitors in the past semester alone. And the Fab Lab’s mobile counterpart has traveled to the region’s remote locations, which otherwise wouldn’t have access to these learning resources.

The mobile Fab Lab will make its second appearance at SXSW EDU this year in Austin, and I’ll be bringing students to volunteer during the event to share their experiences and demonstrate their work of the last year exploring and innovating in the lab. Our goal is to showcase the lab with its 3-D printers, laser cutters and rapid-prototyping machines and explain how these tools are helping students who a desire a STEM career to have resources at their fingertips.

Indeed, educators and students of the Permian welcomed the Fab Lab’s supplementation of traditional education with innovative and creative project-based learning. Professor Lizbeth Bgarza and her Engineering 101 class, for instance, were some of our most frequent visitors. As part of her curriculum, Bgarza required 8-24 hours spent in the Fab Lab over the course of a two-month project — which most students exceeded.

For students who aren’t on an engineering track, Bgarza sees the importance of the Fab Lab encouraging the soft skills needed for employment in STEM industries, and any field for that matter. “My aim is to provide these students with an opportunity to take ownership of their projects, and demonstrate skills in time management, motivation and flexibility,” said Professor Bgarza.

Our lab also hosts a dual-credit, business and leadership class through a partnership with the Ector County Independent School District and Odessa College. Many of the program’s projects help students develop a broad range of skills, as the tasks involved are not only intricate and high-tech, but also provide interdisciplinary ways to foster communication, creative thinking, work ethic, teamwork and problem-solving.

Only through innovations like the Fab Lab and through meaningful partnerships with companies like Chevron can we prepare today’s youth to fill the jobs of tomorrow. I urge everyone at SXSW EDU — along with those who can’t attend — to invest in project-based learning and do all they can to ensure our students, both in Texas and across the country, are equipped with resources that set them up for success.