Dan Schneiderman

Adventures in DC: My Trip to the White House

14 July 2016

In early June, I was invited to represent New York State Maker Movement at the White House for the National Week of Making. On the Thursday evening before the meeting at the White House, the small group of us (Pat Rapp, my wife, and myself) were all set at the airport waiting to board our flight when my wife noticed that our flight had been canceled. Seconds later, I rush up to the front desk, the official announcement goes out that all flights to the DC area have been canceled due to weather. The attendants said that the earliest flight out would leave at 5:30 on Friday morning, but there would still be a chance of delays. After talking it over, we decide to cancel all of our flights, pick up our luggage, hop in the car, and start driving to DC.  After all, it was only a 6.5 hour drive according to Google Maps and was still light out at 7:30 in the evening. The drive was fairly uneventful. We had already had dinner, and traffic was next to nothing due to the late hour. We ended up checking into our hotel at 2am. Thankfully, with 3 of us we were able to take shifts driving allowing me to catch some sleep before the big day.

Kicking off at the White House

Before heading to the White House, several maker representatives and I met up for coffee a few blocks from where we had to go through security. After the fact, it did hit us that we never said what we looked like before the meet up. However, we were lucky enough that one of the representatives wore his Maker Faire badge, which acted as a magnet for the rest of us. Upon entering the room in the the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Grounds, we were greeted by Andrew Coy, the Senior Advisor for Making for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and then sorted by region. At the table where I was seated was Ryan Reedell from New Jersey, Simon Hamermesh from Delaware, Kristina A. Holzweiss, the founder & director of the SLIME Maker Expo, and a few members from various Federal agencies.

Welcoming remarks were given by Rafel Lopez, Commissioner, Administration for Children & Families, US Department of Health & Human Services, who also acted as the MC for the morning. For the opening remarks, Rafel started off with a introduction video from Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame. It was followed by a quick history lesson about the building that we were in, and started to mention one of the main topics for the day: who was missing from the room and how we can get them involved.

After that, there was a panel on Maker Cities moderated by Dale Dougherty with several of the Champions of Change in Making, including:

  • Umberto Crenca, Co Founder & Artistic Director of  the AS220 Makerspace
  • Sonya Pryor-Jones, Chief Implementation Officer for Fab Foundation
  • Renee Fredericks, Youth Education and Employment Services for the Cook Inlet Tribal Council

The panel mostly touched upon their backgrounds and what they have accomplished, along with their thoughts on what could be improved. Renee’s answers really struck a chord with me. She has worked to create maker opportunities within Alaska as a method of keeping the local culture alive and overcoming academic disparities. It was the community that the tribes continued to build up to connect the generations that truly showed what the Maker Movement could accomplish. Renee later joked that the Alaskans were the original MacGyver, having to use animal fur and skin instead of duct tape, and making tools from whatever was around in the environment.

Next Steps in the Maker Movement

Tom Kalil, Deputy Director, Tech and Innovation for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, brought us back to the main discussion of the day, what are the next steps for the Maker Movement? He gave everyone a few minutes to work within their groups/regions to discuss:

“What is the most unusual place you have found makers?”

Most tables, including mine, didn’t really dive into the unusual places where we’ve found makers. After organizing Maker Faires and running different makerspaces, you find that everyone makes something. It never feels unusual when you meet them.

“What did you do to attract diverse participation into the maker movement?”

Our table mostly chatted about our experiences, and experiences we’ve heard about, with partnerships from other organizations. All of us had searched out makers at farmers markets, libraries, or craft shows at one point or another. Others brought up their experiences of hands-on projects with kids and families at local YMCA locations and places of worship, often making projects with a focus on giving back to the communities. Personally, I brought up the murals of Rochester’s Fruit Belt project, and the partnership that Thimble.io has started with the Boys and Girls Club of Buffalo. Food based activities were heavily brought up within the room as a uniting factor within communities of all shapes and sizes.

“Who is not in the room?”

The range of answers was much wider than I was expected. Our table focused on parents and PTA organizations, retirees, trade workers, veterans, caregivers, and long-term health care providers. When attending the World Maker Faire in New York last year, I was personally amazed at how the medical industry was jumping into the maker movement through dedicated makerspaces for nurses and doctors. While groups were presenting, someone brought up prisoners as a potential maker group that just about everyone in the room missed. Once brought up, a few of us ended up on the discussion on how the maker movement might be able to help those exiting the prison system as they look for new work and learn 21st century skills that companies might not be willing/ready to teach.

“How are you proactively engaging young girls and women in your movement?”

Examples were given how the Girl Scouts have partnered with maker organizations to teach soldering at Mini Maker Faires and other events. Groups that promote women in tech were brought up, including Girl Develop It, ChickTech, Jewelbot’s Take Your Daughter to Hack Day, along with university chapters of Women in Computing and Society of Women Engineers.

The conversation did bring up debates and issues that I’ve heard within both the maker movement and the general tech industry. From deciding to establish makerspaces that cater only to women and members of the LGTBQ industry vs. makerspaces that are open to everyone, but with extra emphasis on making it a welcoming and safe space. Or the issues with “pink washing” and the focus on activities that are stereotypically aimed at females, that occur when trying to promote the maker movement to school age girls.

In the end, the discussion finished on the note that mentoring and promoting more role models within the maker movement helps the community in the long run.

Federal Makers

Once the group discussions came to a close, a handful of federal agencies were given precisely two minutes to talk about federal opportunities for makers. Included in the lightning rounds were:

  • Albert Palacios, U.S. Department of Education
  • Lakita Edwards, National Endowment for the Arts
  • Brian Burkhardt, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
  • Katelyn Schreyer, National Science Foundation
  • Sanjay Koyani, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Dave Cranmer, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Manufacturing Extension Partnership
  • Andrew Coy, Senior Advisor for Making, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Most of the talks revolved around grants, and how makers can give back to our country. During the U.S. Department of Education’s lightning talk, Albert announced the winners of the CTE Makeover Challenge: a competition for schools to design school makerspaces that can be scaled all over the country. For all schools that are looking at starting their own space, I recommend visiting their website and reading over their resources.

The last of the talks was given by Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer. She talked about her travels visiting makerspaces, manufacturing companies, start-ups, and school focused maker programs across the county. Between all of those stops, and our nation’s history of world renown makers (from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs), she declared we really are a Nation of Makers.

  • Fun fact, Megan grew up in Buffalo. While visiting last year, she held a maker discussion similar to the one run by Tom Kalil, with The Foundry, Buffalo Labs, and a few big Buffalo makers.

Before we left the White House grounds and started our afternoon discussions, the White House had a last minute surprise for us. Every attendee of the morning’s event was deputized as a Maker Ambassador for their state with a specialized challenge coin made for the event. Challenge coins are traditionally given in the Military to prove membership when joining a unit, or recognition of special achievement. Each coin comes with an unique emblem of the occasion. Typically the coins are given in handshake where the coin can not be seen, as a symbol of trust. For the Maker Kickoff, each coin had the Presidential Seal, along with the words “Nation of Makers”, laser cut on it by the White House. Just before we boarded the bus, we took a group photo on the front steps of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Photo by the Office of Science and Technology - Washington DC. Executive Office Building.

Next Steps as Ambassadors

For the afternoon, most of us were brought to the University of the District of Columbia for deeper discussions. The topics for the afternoon covered: where do we want to see the Maker Movement go in the next year, how do we accomplish those ideas, and what are the problems that arise when trying to get there? Everyone bounced around different ideas within groups that went onto larger discussions with everyone. When boiling down to the essentials, it came to:

  1. We need larger networks of maker groups and organizations to create bigger asks from government and other foundations (I’m currently working on starting up a NY Maker Network, but more on that soon).

  2. The need for research and data points on the impact of the Maker Movement on education, economic development, personal wellbeing, and relationships.

  3. To always be looking around the room and thinking about who is not included and how to get them involved. In addition to sex, race, and socioeconomic status, think about occupation and lifestyle.

As a result of the afternoon discussion, a new network was started among everyone in attendance where we exchange ideas, are now in closer communication to start larger initiatives, and tossing around the idea of quarterly meetings (possibly in person every now and then).

Evening Party and National Maker Faire

Once the day was done, everyone was invited to a party at the hotel where the folks from Make were staying, for an after party. Makers who were in town for the National Maker Faire joined in, and some brought projects that they make (I was able to play the PinBox 3000 Artcade Pinball System from Cardboard Teck Instantute!). Maker Faire producers tossed around different solutions to the problems we’ve all encountered, shared horror stories from our own events, and talked about some of our favorite projects that we’ve worked on, including a drivable TARDIS.

The rest of the weekend was followed by the National Maker Faire, and hanging out with Maker Faire producers. There were booths from every state, along with a ton of Federal Agencies showing off some of their latest toys. One area that I have to call out is the Burlington, NC Maker Community Exhibit. Bennett Michael Harris and the rest of the Burlington Mini Maker Faire team brought 12 different organizations with them to the National Maker Faire, including their Mayor. Seeing how involved their Mayor is in their local maker movement was inspiring, and a goal that I would love to achieve in Rochester. For photos from the faire, checkout the album I posted on the Rochester Mini Maker Faire Facebook.

Last Thoughts

While introducing ourselves throughout the weekend, we had to mention where we’re from, what we do for a day job, and what we’re most proud of. That last bit is what really made introductions interesting. People mentioned everything from their kids, to some of the projects that they have worked on, the differences they have made within their communities, and my personal favorite, how the maker movement has changed them.

I would like to give a shout out to Joel Gordon, the maker ambassador from Arkansas, and the Director of Making for the The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. Throughout the entire weekend we talked a fair amount of what it takes to make a larger impact and how long it takes to get there. Our conversations ranged from how to get city government involved (he’s on a first name basis and can just enter their office at anytime), interactions with museums, to presenting on how the maker movement can make an economic impact on local agencies and nonprofits. Everything we talked about has really stayed with me as I start thinking about all I want to accomplish in Rochester and New York State.

Huge thank you to NYSCATE for sending me and for covering the cost to DC, along with both Pat and my wife Becca for the last minute adventure. I would never have made it to the White House without you two. While the National Week of Making is over, I’m still working with the Office of Science & Technology Policy on bringing some of the top makers from across New York together to help build the maker movement across the state.

White House: A Whole Week of Making!

White House: Presidential Proclamation – National Week of Making, 2016

National Maker Faire

Maker City Book