One of the missions of Blair Academy is to champion the next generation of change-makers. The School invites students to explore new, creative and entrepreneurial pathways, as well as apply in-class academic lessons to real-world experiences. On campus, such applied and interdisciplinary work often takes place in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration (CECIC), which houses art studios, technology classrooms, a recording studio and a maker space. Located at the heart of campus, the center offers students state-of-the-art tools that include laser engraving, dye sublimation printers and even “cobots,” collaborative robots that students routinely use to solve problems in this space. Programs designed to encourage career exploration and extended independent research projects, set in campus locations such as the maker space, encourage students to make connections and approach learning as a lifelong process with no boundaries.
“This is a room where we foster innovation,” said Eliza Link, fine arts teacher and Director of the Romano Gallery. Mrs. Link teaches ninth-grade seminar in the maker space, instructing new students on how to use each of the tools in the space. “The course is designed to scaffold students’ use of technology and creative problem-solving skills to help synthesize ideas in abundance.”
10 Things to Do in the Blair Maker Space
Brand Your Club
With more than 40 active student clubs on campus, there is a place for everyone at Blair. Students have ample opportunities to sample new interests and push their boundaries, thanks to a wide array of clubs, ranging from the academic, artistic and avant-garde. Interested in forming a club? Many at Blair were created by current students who found like-minded classmates and faculty members who shared their interests. What better way to promote a club on campus than custom vinyl stickers? In the maker space, students can design, print and cut vinyl for transfer to walls, windows, banners and fabric on the vinyl cutter using a computer-controlled plotter.
Each November, Blair’s fall sports teams face off against the Peddie School Falcons in one of the School’s most beloved traditions: Peddie Day. What began in 1903 and is now New Jersey’s oldest prep school football rivalry has evolved into a weeklong celebration of school spirit culminating in a “Peddie Eve” bonfire and pep rally. What better way to show Blair spirit than creating personalized swag for game day to cheer the Bucs on to victory? Using the flat heat press, students can create a design and transfer it onto a T-shirt or rally towel in the maker space, using the dye sublimation print system, which converts the ink to a gas when heated, making the design permanent and washable. Creativity and spirit will ensure the Bucs bring home the Kelly-Potter Cup next year.
Change the World
The potential of 3D printing is apparent in nearly every industry, from cars to fashion to healthcare. 3D printing has already been successfully used for cost-effective prosthetics, and last year, a Texas surgeon successfully implanted the first outer ear using the patient’s own cartilage cells and a bioprinter, according to an article by Fortune. As Blair prepares students for the future in these ever-changing industries, it is vital that they have hands-on experience in the cutting-edge technology and equipment that will drive their work.
In the maker space, Mrs. Link provides instruction on three 3D printers accessible in the space that engineer 3D parts using ABS or PLA plastic. Ever mindful of the impact of unnecessary plastic production, she encourages students to thoughtfully design and produce items with utility that can have a positive impact on the world. Knowledge and practice with 3D printers has real-world applications in countless industries Blair students will enter in their future education and careers.
Train a Robot
In the Real World Robotics class last year, students like maker space tech Jack Gerdsen ’23 had the opportunity to work with a robotic arm. The experience went beyond the technical mechanics of robotics and allowed students to apply their knowledge in real-world scenarios. During Jack’s first year at Blair, he programmed the xArm to track his own hand movement using a motion controller while other classmates applied it to videography, using the arm to create smooth camera movements. “They have software that is designed to be very user friendly, but there’s also more in-depth ways to program them,” Jack explained. “It’s great for precise fast movements, repeated motions for an assembly line, or very slow but consistent pattern.”
Save a Species
According to the National Park Service, more than half of the 145 species of North American bats are in need of conservation efforts. That need was the theme for physics teacher Chris Thatcher’s course during J-term last year, a 10-day immersive experience where students and teachers alike dive into a topic about which they are curious. In the maker space, students in the “Bats & Their Homes: Why & How to Build an Effective Bat House” got to work, researching what makes a successful bat home and learning the tools available in the space to get it done, including power and hand tools as well as CAD programming with the laser cutter. As a result, the class designed and built a dozen houses that were donated to a local wildlife conservancy as well as hung around campus.
Blair Academy has begun a transition to broaden the college-level work our students have access to and move beyond traditional Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The move, carefully researched by our faculty and administrators and supported by the eight-member college board that advises Blair, will increase the number of courses that deserve the credentialing of “advanced curriculum,” allowing students to increase their experiential learning and explore a depth of topics both in and outside of the classroom.
As students prepare to enroll in these advanced course offerings for fall 2024, they will need tools to keep them engaged, organized and focused in their academic pursuits. The laser engraving system in the maker space can engrave, cut and mark all types of materials, including wood, acrylic, magnets and glass. The next time students open the textbook for their advanced survey course in economics, their custom bookmark with the etched inscription “You can do it!” may very well be the extra push needed to crush the upcoming test, and the custom magnetic calendar on the dorm fridge will tell them exactly how many days left to study. Empowering students to create and design is one of the many distinct ways Blair prepares them to be resilient, self-aware lifelong learners who go on to make meaningful contributions to their communities and the world.
Build a Friendship
Living in a dorm among peers and teachers from more than 28 countries teaches students to connect and relate to others of diverse backgrounds, develop cultural awareness and resolve conflicts—all tools that will help them successfully navigate life in college and beyond. Most boarding students at Blair live with a roommate, and dorm parents ensure dorms are spirited communities conducive to study but also fun places where residents can relax and engage with their classmates and teachers. The result is a supportive environment where lifelong friendships are forged.
In the maker space, those friendships can be commemorated. Roommates in the ninth-grade seminar can design matching mugs for their room or pencil holders for their desk; friends can celebrate their connection with a keepsake ceramic mug created with the round heat press. Much like the flat press, this dye sublimation printer can apply photos or text, but the round press allows transfer onto a rounded surface, like a ceramic mug or glass.
Solve a Real-World Problem
Unlike the standard 3D printers in the maker space, the 3D resin printer creates pieces far more detailed, accurate down to the micrometer. The process is not as simple, as Jack explains, but far more effective in cases where you need small, intricate parts with superbly high quality and detail, like robotics. “The process requires you to bathe the part in isopropyl alcohol and cure it by blasting the part with UV light in a special machine,” Jack said. Resin printers are a popular tool for game pieces, architectural designs, and dental and jewelry modeling.
Support a Hypothesis
Every spring, Blair’s student scientists share their research and projects at the School’s Science Poster Expo in the CECIC forum. The annual event mimics a professional scientific conference and showcases the work of all grade levels in a wide variety of science classes. Students work on their projects—some of which are signature assessments—for two to three weeks or longer before bringing them to life in the maker space with the use of the wide-format color printer. The technology allows students to create a visual representation of a year’s worth of research—up to 24 inches wide—to present their results to their teachers and classmates.
In classes like Foundations of Independent Science Research (ISR), student scientists use these posters to present their research proposals before the teachers and administrators on the ISR Committee, a process science department chair Kelly Hadden compares to a real-world research grant proposal. If selected, students will spend the next year in this one-and-a-half-year-long student-directed science research class conducting their independent research. The success of the ISR program at Blair became the basis for many of the Advanced Seminar courses faculty have developed in preparation for the transition away from AP to Blair’s Advanced Curriculum in fall 2024.
3D scanners have the ability to digitize a physical object to save, share and edit on a computer. They have real-world applications in a multitude of industries, creating prototypes, ensuring quality control and reverse engineering. Archaeologists use the technology to 3D scan artifacts and entire excavation sites, while museums can replicate and restore damaged items or recreate 3D art pieces for a more hands-on, immersive experience. Students at Blair can create a digital archive of their time on the hilltop or preserve pieces of Blair history since its founding in 1848 for the next generation of Bucs to enjoy.