Tag Archives: Mark Mathias

[OPINION]: Maker Faire Is An Inspiring Economic Engine

Mark Mathias — founder and chair of Maker Faire Westport; founder and president of Remarkable STEAM, Inc. — writes:

Seven years ago, Maker Faire Westport launched in Westport. We had no idea what we were starting. It sounded like fun, and was meant to be a party for geeks.

Organizations such as the Westport Library and a handful of volunteers put on the event. The Sunrise Rotary Club gave us the seed money, along with other sponsors.

That first year, we hoped for 800 attendees. 2,200 showed up.

After 7 years, Maker Faire Westport is the largest single day event in Connecticut. This past spring, it attracted 13,500 attendees. 15,000 to 20,000 are planned for the 8th annual event on April 27, 2019. Of more than 770 Maker Faires globally, Westport is in the top 5% of attendance.

From its geek roots of 3D printers and robotics, Maker Faire Westport has become the “go to” event for creative, innovative people, and a showcase for what Connecticut has to offer.

In 2015 “The Great Fredini” constructed an entire scale model of Coney Island, with a 3D printer. Faire-goers could have their own body scanned — and printed — to be included.

Companies such as Sikorsky (helicopters), Electric Boat (submarines) and ASML (semiconductor chips) demonstrate the types of high tech manufacturing going on in Connecticut.

Colleges and universities like Sacred Heart, Fairfield, University of Bridgeport, Housatonic Community College and Norwalk Community College show off their educational programs and graduates.

And organizations such as the Westport Young Woman’s League and League of Women Voters showcase their good works in the community.

The value of what Maker Faire Westport is doing was cemented in my mind when I was invited by the Italian government to attend Maker Faire Rome in October.

Produced by the Italian Trade Agency and Rome Chamber of Commerce, it promotes and highlights Italian innovation and businesses around the world.

Delegations of reporters and businesspeople were flown in from around the world. They joined 115,000 attendees, 700 selected projects and visitors from 61 countries.

Mark Mathias at Maker Faire Rome.

Italy is not alone in its vision. China has 3 large Maker Faires, which also promote economic activity.

What is offered at Maker Faires is far more than just geeky fun. It’s a showcase of human capital, businesses, vibrancy, and a place where people will want to work, live and invest. Maker Faires are inspiration, substantiated by proof.

In other words, Maker Faire is a way to help grow an economy: businesses, schools, libraries and communities.

For the 8th annual Maker Faire Westport, we will continue to embrace creative people and showcase the best that Connecticut offers. We will work to let the world know and see that value.  We will continue to inspire local people to learn about opportunities for personal growth, skills and career opportunities.

We welcome all who want to be a part of Connecticut’s economic and social future.

If you have an initiative already in place, we can work with you to leverage it on a larger scale. If you want to gain visibility and access to people who should know about you, we can work with you. If you have a vested interest in the success of Connecticut, work with us to help realize your success. If you have a quirky or unique hobby, talent or project, we want you too.

Planning is underway for next year’s Maker Faire Westport.  Please contact me to discuss how you can benefit from this initiative: mark@remarkablesteam.org; 203-226-1791.

Unsung Hero #44

When the 7th annual Maker Faire takes over Westport this Saturday (April 21), there will be something for everyone.

A record 12,000+ attendees — tech lovers, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science geeks, artists, authors, students and exhibitors — will share what they’ve made, see what others have created, teach, learn, be inspired, and inspire others.

And have tons of fun.

It’s a massive undertaking. Planning began the moment last year’s Maker Faire — which drew “only” 10,500 people — ended.

Hundreds of volunteers make it happen. But none of it would be possible without Mark Mathias.

Mark Mathias

Westport’s event– part of a worldwide movement (and of all 772 Maker Faires in 44 countries, among the top 5% in attendance) — was his brainchild.

In September 2011, his kids were fascinated by the New York Maker Faire.

Seven months later — thanks to Mathias’ work with the Westport Library, Sunrise Rotary and Downtown Merchants Association — we had our own “Mini Maker Faire.”

The “mini” is long gone. Now — with activities spread across the Library, Jesup Green, Taylor parking lot, Bedford Square, Town Hall and Veterans Green — it’s as maxi as it gets.

But the Maker Faire is not Mathias’ only local contribution. He’s in his 15th year on the Board of Education; is an active member of Saugatuck Congregational Church (with a particular interest in their mission trips), and when his daughter Nicole was at Staples High School, he was an avid supporter of the music department.

Mathias — whose professional background is in IT — is president of Remarkable Steam. The non-profit promotes innovation and creativity in the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

This is Mark Mathias’ busiest time of year. Hopefully, he’ll take a few moments out of his hectic day to accept our thanks, as this week’s Unsung Hero.

Robots galore at last year’s Maker Faire.

(For more information on Westport’s Maker Faire, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Westport Schools’ Innovative Innovation Fund

The Westport Public Schools want students to think creatively and innovatively; to approach problems in ways no one else conceives of. That’s an important part of education — and crucial for success in the 21st century.

To do that, teachers must model that type of thinking.

And to give everyone extra encouragement, the district is putting its money where its mouth is.

Literally.

A $50,000 Innovation Fund is available to all students, faculty and staff. The goal is to encourage exciting ideas, foster new ways of thinking, and nurture an ongoing culture of creativity.

It’s not a new concept — districts like Wilton, Trumbull, Chappaqua and Scarsdale — have similar funds. But they’re usually run by third parties, such as foundations.

But, according to director of elementary education Julie Droller and technology director Natalie Carrignan, the Westport district wanted to select the best ideas itself. Board of Education member Mark Mathias was an early proponent of the fund. Superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer was also a strong advocate.

“We’re looking for solutions to problems that we otherwise would not have the equipment, time or resources for,” Droller says. “We know there are lots of great ideas out there.”

Just a couple of weeks after the fund was created, applications are pouring in.

Proposals include new ways of using technology, novel activities and requests for physical devices.

Drones are fun. They can also be educational.

One example: enhancement to the middle school STEM curriculum by using drones and coding software to solve real-world challenges.

Another: Teachers using technology to help them reflect on how they’re doing in the classroom. It’s similar, Carrignan says, to coaches who use game film to analyze performances.

The Innovation Fund is available to anyone in the district. One 3rd grade parent asked for more information, for her child.

A committee meets this week to review the first batch of requests. To learn more, click here.

Mark Mathias: Mixed Reactions At Trump’s Boy Scout Speech

Mark Mathias is many things. He’s the founder and president of Remarkable STEAM, a statewide organization promoting innovation and creativity in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. He founded Westport’s Maker Faire, has served on the Board of Education for 14 years, and volunteers with the Boy Scouts.

In that last capacity, he’s attending this week’s National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. He’s joined by 35,000 Scouts from around the world (120 from Connecticut, including Westporters), and 5,000 adult support staff. Mathias’ role is radio communications.

Mark Mathias and his son Nick, at the Boy Scout Jamboree.

Yesterday was a special one at the sprawling camp. Here’s his report:

This year, we were honored to have President Trump address the Jamboree.

Scheduled to speak at 6 p.m., preparations for his visit started well over a week ago. The venue opened at 2:30, and numerous restrictions were in place. It took nearly 2 hours from the time I got in line and snaked down the pathways until I reached one of 2 entrances.

Restrictions in place for President Trump’s visit to the Boy Scout Jamboree.

All day long, and particularly in line, lots of Scouts and adults wore red “Make America Great Again” hats.

Once inside the venue, box lunches were given to each person. Free bottles of water were handed out to every attendee, since it was very hot and muggy.  Luckily there was some light cloud cover and a brief sprinkle of rain to keep people cool while we waited on the grass.

The scouting organization was good at keeping the crowd entertained, as the Scouts stayed in their troop areas.  Many patches were traded, and ice cream vendors did a land office business.

By 6 p.m. the stage was set. A man placed the presidential seal on the podium.

Around 6:20 we saw the presidential motorcade arrive, winding down the hill to the rear of the stage.  The crowd frequently chanted: “We want Trump!” and “U! S! A!”

Mark Mathias’ view of the presidential stage.

When Mr. Trump came on stage, he received a very warm welcome from the assembled Scouts.  Thunderous applause and chanting of his name was a marvel to hear.

As he started his speech, Mr. Trump indicated he would set aside political differences for the evening, and instead talk about how to be successful.  He mentioned that 10 of the members of his cabinet were Scouts, and brought on stage Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

Other than the time I went to Washington to see a presidential inauguration with my family, I have not attended a live event where the President of the United States has spoken. I believe that the opportunity to see and hear the president is something everyone in our country should have.  I also believe in respecting the office of the president.

President Trump addresses the Boy Scouts.

Speaking to other scoutmasters in the audience as we waited for the president, I heard that some troops had talked seriously about not attending. Luckily, the scoutmasters I spoke to did not let this opportunity pass by. As I left the venue after the speech however, I saw a handful of troops that elected to not attend.

With a great start to President Trump’s speech, I had high hopes he would use it as an opportunity to inspire this largest collection of Scouts in the United States to do great things, and have scouting be a way to give them the skills they need.

Unfortunately, President Trump moved to subjects of repealing Obamacare, “fake news,” and how well the economy and stock market are doing since his election.

The crowd welcomed most of President Trump’s comments with great cheers, although there was the occasional boo — in particular when President Trump mentioned that President Obama did not address a Jamboree. (Click below for the entire speech.)

I stood in the audience, trying to absorb what was going on around me. Was the crowd responding to the fact that they had the President of the United States speaking to them? Were they truly supportive of the policies being presented to them? A combination of these and other reasons? Am I out of touch with America?

On the walk home and in talking with the people with whom I’m working, the conversations were muted. A few people said they thought Trump did a great job. Others were more critical of his speech. But adults on both sides of the subject were remarkably unenthusiastic. It was almost as though the speech didn’t happen. It surprised me that there was not a great desire to talk about what we had just witnessed.

Mark Mathias, at the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.

The experience for me was somewhat surreal. Being in the audience as the president addressed us is a great honor. Feeling the energy of the crowd — but not the motivation — made me feel out of place. Then, after having experienced what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the president in person not be ebullient about it, was downright odd.

I hope to have more opportunities to participate in events of this nature, and hear leaders in their own words. I hope to be able to share these experiences with my family and friends. Most of all, I hope that we all grow as a result of these experiences.

Maker Faire Moves From Mini To Massive

Six years ago, Mark Mathias and a small group of believers brought an intriguing event to Connecticut.

They hoped 800 people would share and enjoy interactive, interdisciplinary, interesting exhibits.

They got 2,200.

The event — called a Mini Maker Faire — grew each year. Over 25,000 folks — of all ages, genders and from 100 miles away — have come at least once.

Interactivity is a major draw for the Maker Faire.

Interactivity is a major draw for the Maker Faire.

This year, Mathias expects a record 10,000 attendees. It will be especially notable for 2 reasons:

  • It’s set for Earth Day (Saturday, April 22), and …
  • It’s no longer “Mini.” The event is now an honest-to-goodness, full-fledged, grown-up-but-still-way-cool “Maker Faire.”

maker-faire-logoMathias is very excited about this 6th annual celebration, at the Westport Library and Jesup Green. He and his crew have drawn together a community of young and old males and females of all races, religions and economic levels. They’re technology enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, artists and students. All share a love of creativity, innovation, tinkering and fun.

Some show off their work, in a dazzling variety of fields. Some wander around, observing and questioning and learning. Some do both.

Small businesses find customers, inventors and suppliers. Large businesses showcase their products and employees — and find talent and ideas.

"The Great Fredini" is constructing an entire scale model of Coney Island, with a 3D printer. Faire-goers could have their own body scanned -- and printed -- to be included.

“The Great Fredini” is constructing an entire scale model of Coney Island, with a 3D printer. Faire-goers had their own body scanned — and printed — to be included.

The theme for this year’s Maker Faire is “Earth.” Organizers hope it will be Fairfield County’s main Earth Day celebration.

As the Maker Faire has grown (and shed its “mini” status), Mathias and his fellow devotees have continued to do yeoman’s work. Right now they’re seeking makers (those who showcase their work); volunteers (who make it all happen), and sponsors (corporations, philanthropists and foundations).

To be a maker or to volunteer, click here; then select the “Participate” menu. If you’d like to be a sponsor, email mark@remarkablesteam.org, or call 203-226-1791.

See you at the Faire!

Stop & Chop — And Plop

This  morning’s “06880” referenced an earlier post, with a photo about the sudden removal of trees from the Stop & Shop parking lot.

As if on cue, Mark Mathias spotted this scene earlier today, in the same spot:

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

As promised, diseased and/or overgrown trees have been replaced by hardy new ones.

Enjoy the view — and the shade!

Board Of Ed Eyes Innovation Fund

Westport’s schools are among the best in the country.

One Board of Education member thinks he has a way to make them better.

Last week, Mark Mathias presented his colleagues with a new idea: an Innovation Fund. The aim is to give everyone — from the superintendent, Board of Ed, administrators and teachers to the town’s 5,500 students and residents — a chance to offer ideas for education. And then act on them.

Mathias’ Innovation Fund would cost $1 million per year. Funds would go to a project manager; a committee to evaluate applications, oversee projects and assess results, and of course to the projects themselves.

The Innovation Fund could also match grants from outside sources — Kickstarter, GoFundMe, DonorsChoose, or a foundation, company or individual.

The Fund, Mathias says, could offer increased opportunities for student outcomes and teacher development; help attract and  retain superior staff, and make Westport even more attractive for families.

The community would also see the potential of teachers and students unleashed to invent, design, build, engineer and create. Meanwhile, businesses could join with schools to leverage resources.

The Westport Maker Faire taps into creativty and energy, for people of all ages. Mark Mathias would like to see a similar push for innovation in our schools.

The Westport Maker Faire taps into creativity and energy, for people of all ages. Mark Mathias would like to see a similar push for innovation in our schools.

For example, Mathias sees teachers experimenting with different techniques of engaging students; the results could then be compared. Students could request equipment for a maker space, building materials for a community project, or equipment for a new sport. Administrators could come up with an idea to better manage maintenance, equipment or energy, while teachers and students might collaborate running an actual company.

“I have no idea what people will actually come up with,” Mathias says. “But I am constantly amazed at the level of energy and creativity of everyone in Westport — including our children.

“The point is, we need to tap into the enthusiasm and ideas of our entire community, yielding learning experiences far beyond the classroom that prepare students for life beyond Westport, while attracting and retaining the best staff and teachers and continuing to make Westport this preferred place to live.”

He acknowledges that funding the Innovation Fund may prove challenging. The Board of Ed will discuss and vote on the item at its next meeting (Monday, February 1, 7:30 p.m., Staples High School cafeteria).

 

Fancy Meeting You Here!

The tagline of “06880” is “Where Westport meets the world.”

One part of that world: South By Southwest.

David Pogue and Mark Mathias at SXSW

Westport Board of Education member/Maker Faire founder/tech enthusiast Mark Mathias and Westport resident/tech writer/video star/guru David Pogue met each other by chance earlier today, at the annual kick-ass tech/interactive conference in Austin.

No word on whether they discussed the next big thing in technology, or how SoNo Baking Company will compare to Java.

Nicole’s Harpcam

It’s not often a high school drama troupe tackles “Sweeney Todd.”

It’s even rarer for a high school orchestra to include a harp.

But the curtain goes up tonight at Staples on “Sweeney Todd.” And there in the Players’ pit is junior Nicole Mathias, playing that beautiful — but exceedingly difficult — instrument.

Nicole’s father Mark attached a webcam to her harp, for last night’s dress rehearsal. Click below to hear “Not While I’m Around” — and see a view of a show no one ever gets.

Plus Nicole’s great, proud smile at the end.

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

…And Stay Out!

Westport is famous for forming committees to address every issue.

But getting together to figure out how to be not nice — I’m sorry. That’s going a bit too far.

Hat tip to Mark Mathias, who spotted this sign the other day at Town Hall.

Hat tip to Mark Mathias, who spotted this sign the other day at Town Hall.