A University of St. Thomas professor of engineering who loves to roll up her sleeves and make things was invited by President Obama to join a host of like-minded thing-makers at the first-ever White House Maker Faire.
Dr. AnnMarie Thomas joined the St. Thomas faculty in 2006; she directs the School of Engineering’s Playful Learning Lab, co-directs the St. Thomas Center for Engineering Education, and teaches courses on machine design, engineering graphics, the design of both toys and products for an aging population, and a seminar on brain-machine interfaces. “The strength of St. Thomas is that we celebrate the design, create and ‘make’ part of engineering,” said Thomas, who also is the founding executive director of the Maker Education Initiative, where she worked to establish the national Maker Corps program.
Thomas is known for creating one of the Playful Learning Lab’s more well-known products, “squishy circuits.” Her four-minute “squishy circuits” Ted Talk, which has had nearly 650,000 viewers, demonstrates how homemade play dough can be used to show electrical properties by lighting up LEDs and spinning motors, turning little kids into circuit designers.
Thomas and her 6-year-old daughter, Sage, demonstrated squishy circuits at the faire.
“Our goal is to put inspirational, forceful leaders into the classroom and have them ignite curiosity and ingenuity among our students,” said Dr. Don Weinkauf, dean of the School of Engineering at St. Thomas. “Dr. Thomas deeply understands that the roots of our greatest engineers and thinkers start at an early age with the smallest of fingers touching and changing things around them. And squishy circuits have been touched by tens of thousands of little fingers.”
In addition to President Obama, official guests at the event included founder of FIRST Robotics Dean Kamen, director of the National Science Foundation France Cordova, director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins, numerous mayors from across the nation, and founder of Make Magazine Dale Dougherty.
According to Dougherty, “Making sits at the intersection of art and science, and at the crossroads of technology and design … What’s true of all Makers is that what they do, opens new doors and often leads to new relationships and unexpected opportunities.”
The White House Maker Faire coincided with the National Day of Making, where communities across America shared and celebrated their involvement in the Maker Movement. Letters supporting the movement, signed by more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities, were given to the White House.
In Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota have pledged to join President Obama to create vibrant Maker ecosystems in their respective communities, which will include the development of Makerspaces and the opening of facilities to foster “making” among students. In her letter, Dr. Julie Sullivan, president of the University of St. Thomas, applauded President Obama’s “support of the Maker Movement and especially its role in education.”
In his proclamation, President Obama said: “As a country, we respond to challenge with discovery, determined to meet our great tests while seeking out new frontiers. During the National Day of Making, we celebrate and carry forward this proud tradition.”
The event featured more than 100 makers from 25 states, and include more than 30 exhibits. The president viewed a subset of these exhibits, representing the range of creativity and ingenuity unlocked by the Maker Movement. Following his tour of the White House Maker Faire, the president delivered remarks to an audience of entrepreneurs, students, business leaders, mayors and heads of non-profit organizations.