RVA MakerFest engages “do-it-yourself” community

Photo by Jon Mirador

Andrew Ringle
Contributing Writer

Members of the “do-it-yourself” community seized an opportunity to educate the public on how science, technology, engineering and math are used to translate ideas into reality at the fifth annual RVA MakerFest Saturday.

Held at the Science Museum of Virginia, the event showcased more than 90 creators — including glassblowers, flagmakers, blacksmiths and dollmakers, among others. Each booth had hands-on demonstrations and volunteers could bring home anything they helped create.

“The main goal of MakerFest is to help people learn how to use their brain[s] instead of their phones and their computers,” said Mary Arritt, RVA MakerFest co-founder and producer. “It’s a day where we connect people, not only by teaching them how things are made, but by giving them real information about STEM and its implications in the real world.”

Arritt added that attending MakerFest in the past has increased the grades of some students, according to their parents.

To attend MakerFest as a vendor, groups submitted proposals between April and May. Out of 120 applicants, a non-profit board of directors selected those who best exemplified the educational goals of the festival.

Two groups from VCU were among those selected for the showcase. Students from the university’s Formula SAE (FSAE) and Hyperloop presented their work to MakerFest audiences for the first time in the festival’s history.

Photo by Jon Mirador

FSAE at VCU is a chapter of the international student design competition of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Event attendees listened to presentations led by the club’s officers, including VCU senior and FSAE at VCU President Ben Loren.

“One thing we really like to do is show kids that engineering isn’t always sitting behind a desk and pushing papers,” Loren said. “It’s an opportunity to get out there and use your hands to design real things.”

The organization designs and builds formula-style race cars which are then used to compete against other schools internationally. At the FSAE display, younger guests were especially entertained by climbing into the seat of a recent competitive project.

In a neighboring booth, VCU’s Hyperloop gave its presentation to MakerFest guests. The multidisciplinary student organization was founded last year and its members are devoted to building a transportation pod for SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition.

The team talked to visitors about their experiences, including competing in front of 2,000 guests at the last competition — which was also attended by Elon Musk, SpaceX founder, CEO and lead designer.  

Harrison Powers, a VCU junior and the organization’s fundraising lead, explained how Hyperloop at VCU has big plans for the future, including expanding recruitment and using experience to greatly improve pod design. He was joined by VCU junior and the group’s president, Arthur Chadwick.

“With this event, we get an opportunity to show people who we are,” Chadwick said. “And we can reach out to young talent in this area to show them that Richmond, especially VCU, is the best place to work on making exciting ideas a reality.”

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