Wabeno, Three Lakes receive combined $45,640 in state funding on 'Fab Lab Day'Submitted: 05/13/2019
Story By Lane Kimble

Wabeno, Three Lakes receive combined $45,640 in state funding on 'Fab Lab Day'
WABENO - Jennifer Shopodock can show you around the Wabeno High School fab lab like she's a tour guide, but that wasn't the case not too long ago.

"I had no idea what I was doing," Shopodock said with a laugh.

The senior started using the school's fab lab in 2018 when it opened.  She learned how to program software and machines like the laser engraver to ultimately craft art like a turtle and a landscape carved into wood.

"Sometimes it's, you know, problem, problem, problem, but you can't just like stop when you have a problem. You have to work through it," Shopodock said.

That problem-solving spirit was rewarded Monday afternoon. Wabeno received $25,000 through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's (WEDC) grant process. It was one of 20 districts statewide to get the grant funding out of 56 applicants on a day Gov. Tony Evers proclaimed "Fab Lab Day."

"We need to start learning to take advantage of that day by day and step by step and become the school that is leading the way in the fab lab industry," principal Bill Taylor told a school assembly in the gym.

The WEDC's Vice President of Business and Community Development Barb LaMue noted Wabeno stood out beyond other applicants because of its willingness to share the lab with the general public and the curriculum surrounding the lab.

"To be able to work along side the students, and in those cases, the students teach us how to use the equipment," LaMue said. 

Wabeno's path to a fab lab first took voters approving a $300,000 referendum in April 2017, which they supported by a 59-41 percent margin.  Fab lab director Tim Stolar thinks the community recognized the benefits the lab could bring to the Forest County community.

"It comes down to the creativity and what could we do, what kind of problems could we solve in this country if we allowed our kids to be creative at an early age?" Stolar said.

About an hour to the north of Wabeno, Three Lakes seventh-grade student Wesley Meyer might not solve world hunger with his invention, but he jumped hook, line, and sinker, into his school's lab.

"Overall, it's been an easier process using the technology in the fab lab," Meyer said.

Meyer came up with his "Lego Lures" on his own, but found the Three Lakes fab lab offered a better way to create and market his invention -- one that actually works. (Meyer says he's used his Lego Lures to catch three bass and eight northern pike, including a 3 1/2-foot monster.)

"We get out of their way and they start solving problems of meaning to them that take us in really fun directions, us and them, and we all learn," Three Lakes Fab Lab Director Dr. Steve Yahr said.  

The Three Lakes fab lab, which was the first K-12 fab lab in the state in 2014, also received a $20,640 portion of the state's $520,000 in this round of funding.  

"It will allow us to push the corners of the envelope and to do some really cool new things. What? We don't know yet," Yahr said.

Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) expects new Governor Tony Evers to keep funding a formula he says has worked well over the last four years. The WEDC has doled out more than $2 million dollars through its program.

"I'm in high hopes that he would support this and I can't think why he wouldn't because of his, obviously, his background in the school districts as well," Swearingen said of Evers. (Evers was state school superintendent before winning the governor's office in November.)

Wabeno is grateful for the public support it's received. Now, its students are happy to show anyone around a world where the possibilities are endless.

"I'm very excited for the generations to come," Shopodock said.

The grants require a one-to-one match. Wabeno plans to upgrade some of its machines, while Three Lakes will add new 3-D printers that will let students use materials they've never used before.

Lakeland Union, Merrill, Abbotsford, and Wisconsin Rapids schools also received grant funding for fab labs on Monday.

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