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Welcome to Innovation in the Burg, a podcast about science and innovation in St. Petersburg. If you’re a self-described science or technology geek, or even if you aren’t, this will be a fun and informative conversation. Each week, we’ll be joined by a local science or technology expert who will talk about what they’re working on. But to make sure we keep this in perspective and we don’t become too technical, we have a community member joining us. Our hope is that you learn something new and enjoy our conversation.

11/09/2018 | Episode 002 | 32:06

Innovation in the 'Burg: Chad Mairn & Dr. David Rosengrant

Local professors talk innovations in STEM education, inspiration and bringing Magic School bus to life through VR

Welcome to Innovation in the 'Burg, a podcast all about science and innovation in St. Petersburg. This week, host Alison Barlow, executive director of the St. Pete Innovation District, brings two professors from St. Petersburg College and University of South Florida, St. Petersburg together to talk innovations in STEM education. Professors Chad Mairn and Dr. David Rosengrant wax poetic on how technologies like 3D printing, virtual reality and augmented reality are helping students learn math, physics, and biology in new ways. They share thoughts on the future of STEM (hint: It's a lot like Magic School Bus!) and the most influential minds in science and technology.

Key Insights

  • Today's guests: Chad Mairn: librarian, teacher, author, and self-described geek who manages the Innovation Lab at St. Petersburg College. Chad also plays drums and organizes Pinellas Comic and Maker Con.
  • Dr. David Rosengrant: David is an associate professor in the STEM education at USF St. Petersburg. He has a passion for physics and video games. He combines the two using video games as a hook to help students learn various physics concepts.
  • Mairn says the creation of the Innovation Lab was really a selfish endeavor, made possible by writing grants to the St. Petersburg College Foundation: "I wanted to learn 3D printing. I wanted to learn robotics. I wanted to learn all this stuff. Let's write a grant, create a space, and do it. So, that's really how it came to be."
  • Physics and video games: "With video games, what makes them so believable are the physics engines. The better the games get developed, the better the physics engines have to be. So, you really have to have a commanding knowledge of physics to work the game engines... when this person falls, what happens? When he hits, how big of a force is it?"
  • Helping visually impaired students learn STEM through 3D printing: "We've created a grid that we 3D printed, and then they put the little points on. They get problems that are presented through voice, so they can actually listen to it, and then they actually pinpoint the thing, and they use string to then draw the arc."
  • Merge cube: "Hold this cube and you use your phone or VR goggles... and you superimpose images, moving images, over top of it. So, it's like a hologram, in a way, and you can move the cube around and interact with the hologram."
  • "As I'm turning it, the computers are picking up how much I'm turning it. So, when I look through my phone I see the cube that turns into whatever it is I want it to turn into."
  • Merge cube as a teaching tool: "With my background in physics some of the most difficult concepts are some of the most elementary, dealing with force and motion. I can exert forces on the spaceship. I can tell it I wanted to move in certain directions, whether it's up, down, left, or right, because we're dealing with it now in three dimensions."
  • Google Expedition: "It's on your phone. You can download it now. if you have a Google cardboard thing that you can build yourself, or come to my lab and 3D print something, you can then go on field trips all over the world through Google."
  • "A.R. expeditions which does the same thing. So, imagine a DNA Helix very large in your room that you can walk around now. So, schools are starting to already do this."
  • On STEM: "I'm not a scientist. I'm not a technologist, really. I'm not an engineer, not a mathematician. I'm none of those. I'm technically a librarian, but I have this curiosity about things and I have a desire to figure things out."
  • Mairn spends a lot of his time teaching coding and STEM to both students and teachers: I went to Madeira Beach Fundamental, and I worked with over 90 faculty to demystify STEM, because they're supposed to integrate STEM activities in their classes and they're like, "We don't know what to do!"
  • Who inspires these techies? Elon Musk, Carl Sagan, Steve Jobs, Bill and Melinda Gates, Robert Noyce, Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Aomawa Shields.

"Within the College of Education, yes, we train teachers, and so we can't train them on what's happening today. You have to be innovative. We need to move forward and think about what are they going to be experiencing five years down the road?" - Dr. David Rosengrant

"If you have a mindset of: "Let's figure this out. Why is it not working?" that's what STEM is all about, in my opinion." - Chad Mairn

 

Table of Contents

(0:00–1:36) Guest Introductions

(1:36–3:07) Chad’s Position as Director of the Innovation Lab

(3:07–3:57) Making Video Games into a Career

(3:57–17:33) Assistive Technology & Gadgets

(17:33–21:40) What a Bad Day Looks Like for Chad and David

(21:40–23:49) The Innovation Lab

(23:49–25:49) The Stem Lab

(25:49–29:08) Who Inspires Chad and David

(30:00–33:17) Final Thoughts & Conclusion

Full Transcript: 

Alison: Let me introduce today’s guests. Our expert is Chad Mairn of St. Petersburg College. Chad is a librarian, teacher, author, and self-described geek who frequently shares his enthusiasm for all things technology. He’s an information services librarian, assistant professor, and manages the Innovation Lab at St. Petersburg College. Chad also plays drums in two bands, is that right?

 

Chad: Actually, it’s just one now.

 

Alison: Oh.

 

Chad: Yeah, I need to update that.

 

Alison: Yeah, you do. And he organizes Pinellas Comic and Maker Con, which is held every year at St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus. Let me also introduce our community member, Dr. David Rosengrant. David is an associate professor in the STEM education at USF St. Petersburg. He has a passion for physics and video games. He combines the two using video games as a hook to help students learn various physics concepts. Now, as he says, when he’s playing Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto, or Kingdom Hearts, he can tell his wife it’s part of his job. I like that. Nice job.

 

David: I love it, and so does my daughter.

Alison: Very cool. So, let’s get started. I’m going to ask Chad the first question. How did you become the director of the Innovation Lab at St. Pete College?

 

Chad: It’s interesting. I created the position myself. I was very selfish, and I’m very interested in technology, emerging tech, that kind of thing. And so, I wrote some grants through the St. Petersburg College Foundation. They had these innovation grants. And so, again, it was it was selfish. I wanted to learn 3D printing. I wanted to learn robotics. I wanted to learn all this stuff. Let’s write a grant, create a space, and do it. So, that’s really how it came to be.

 

Alison: So, what is the lab?

 

Chad: It’s called the Innovation Lab. It’s on the Seminole Campus, which is at St. Petersburg College. The lab’s everywhere. So, it’s not just this little room that we’re in. It can be out back, where our little butterfly garden is, or can be in a computer lab. But it’s got 3D printers. We’ve got quite a few now. Robotics, variety of robot kits, and that kind of thing in there. We’re doing a lot with virtual reality right now and augmented reality. Circuitry. Raspberry Pi. We’re actually just now starting to play with artificial intelligence. We’ve got a vision kit and a voice kit. So, it kind of recognizes objects and through a confidence score it kind of tells you if that’s what it is or not. Pretty interesting stuff.

 

Alison: It strikes me that you’re just going through the catalogs picking all these toys you want to play with and then ordering them.

Chad: Pretty, pretty much.

 

Alison: That’s pretty cool

 

Chad: I always call my office the attic. So, you walk in, there’s all this stuff. People are always like, “This is your job?” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s a big part of it.”

 

Alison: It’s kind of funny, because in the same way, David, you’ve kind of made up a career going, you know, video games. How do you make video games into a career? So, that’s kind of cool.

 

David: Well, it’s one of those things where being in physics you’re always wondering, “How do I get my students interested in physics? What do I do?” And so, with video games, what makes them so believable are the physics engines. The better the games get developed, the better the physics engines have to be. So, you really have to have a commanding knowledge of physics to work the game engines. And so, if I can use that as my leverage point and show, okay, so when this person falls, what happens? When he hits, how big of a force is it?” Or when they’re swinging. Gee, I can calculate gravity from just the swinging of the pendulum. Why not use those type of things, because students are doing this all the time, already? They’re spending so many hours playing their video games, so if we can help them see the connections there, it just helps us out in the classroom.

 

Alison: I love it because both of you are kind of taking creative approaches into education. So, Chad, I want to make sure we talk about one program that caught my attention, which is around what you’re doing for students who have low sight or not able to see. Kind of talk about that.

 

Chad: Yeah, there’s actually two things we’re working on. One is it’s difficult for a student, a blind student, or a visually impaired student, to graph something in a math, like a pre-algebra, class.

 

Alison: So, like knowing angles, and…?

 

Chad: Yeah, exactly, and arcs, and that kind of thing. So, what we’ve done is we’ve created a grid that we 3D printed, and then they put the little points on. They get problems that are presented through voice, so they can actually listen to it, and then they actually pinpoint the thing, and they use string to then draw the arc. The other thing we’re working on is in biology class. So, a blind student cannot see something under a microscope. So, we’ve taken that image, we’ve made it large and 3D, and we now print them. And so, now a blind student can interact with these cells, or whatever. Yeah. And we’re actually putting them on acrylic now, so they look like they’re on slides.

 

Alison: Oh, that’s fascinating.

 

David: Now, you’re saying low sight. So, what qualifies, like, low sight. I can understand someone’s legally blind. They can’t see. But, what is low sight? What’s that distinction?

 

Chad: You know, I don’t really know, to be honest with you. All I’m doing is working with the materials and the faculty, and then I send them out an object and they look at it and go, “This is perfect,” or, “Can you make it thinner?” “Can you make it hollow?” But, yeah, I don’t really know enough to answer that question about low sight.

 

Alison: But you mentioned to me, when you first did the angles and such, you had some trouble. Like, a student couldn’t assemble it, or something?

 

Chad: Yeah, and that’s the interesting part, because I’ve only tested our work with blind students, and it’s interesting because when you work with a blind student you watch them interact with this thing you just designed and you go, “Wow, this isn’t gonna work.” So, the second version of our tactile graph was watching this student piece the four quadrants together, and it took 20 minutes, and it never worked right. So, I’m like, you know, we need to take the four, throw them away, and have just one that does all four. And so, that’s what we’re doing now on version three. So, when you watch a blind student interact, just like you would watch a blind student go through the research process using a screen reader, that can be painful too. So, all these accessibility issues are huge now.

 

David: Yeah. Now, I noticed—and actually David brought one of these cubes—and can you guys, Chad and David, start with Chad, can you explain what this cube is and what it’s all about?

 

Chad: It looks like a Rubik’s Cube, if you can imagine, and it’s got like hieroglyphics on it, it looks like. And you hold this cube and you use your phone or VR goggles, which would be powered by a phone or a tablet, and you superimpose images, moving images, over top of it. So, it’s like a hologram, in a way, and you can move the cube around and interact with the hologram.

 

Alison: How does it even know?

 

David: Well, the cube was made by a company called Merge. And so, for example, we just set off our first augmented reality app on Monday, and what it does is the programming, because of the different hieroglyphics, it knows what shape and what orientation the cube is in. So, it’s looking at these different hieroglyphics and shapes on there. So, it knows how I’m turning the cube based on it. So, the programming with Merge picks up these cubes. I mean, it’s just a little, like I said—

 

Alison: Is it like a barcode, maybe? I know it’s not exactly. But could somebody be listening to this think about it as a barcode?

 

David: One that they can see visually. So, like, as I’m turning it, the computers are picking up how much I’m turning it. So, when I look through my phone I see the cube that turns into whatever it is I want it to turn into. I can have like a campfire sitting in here. I can have a castle. What we’re doing is I turn the cube into a block of space with a spaceship on the inside. So, as you’re looking through it I have the spaceship and it’s flying through a space field, but it’s just within this particular little cube.

 

Alison: It’s so—and I’m seeing the cube, so I can only imagine the folks listening to this are going, “Huh? How does this work?” So, Chad, how are you planning on using stuff like this?

 

Chad: Well, just the other day I did an hour of code in Midtown, and we finished the work within like 50 minutes. And so, I had some more time and I brought out the Merge Cube. And it was the solar system. So, what I did is I actually, through Apple TV, pushed it up to the big screen and it was a huge hit with the kids. So, they got to explore the sun, and the distance between the Earth, and all this stuff through hologram.

 

Alison: So, you can actually use it as a teaching tool.

 

Chad: Definitely.

 

Alison: And is that how you’re thinking, David, of using it?

 

David: Exactly. So, what we have it set up as is we have the spaceship, but with my background in physics some of the most difficult concepts are some of the most elementary, dealing with force and motion. So, what we have here is a lot of schools may not have equipment for expensive programs. They may not have the budget to be able to do this, so you download a free program. Most students have a smartphone. There’s your entire laboratory. So, I can exert forces on the spaceship. I can tell it I wanted to move in certain directions, whether it’s up, down, left, or right, because we’re dealing with it now in three dimensions.

 

Alison: Yeah. It’s kind of fascinating. I don’t know how to explain this, but I’m holding a phone facing the cube, and then I see kind of almost like a cartoon image, for lack of a better term.

 

Chad: One thing I want to mention is we just got about $900 from the Friends of the Library in Seminole, and what we’re doing, I did four classes: Intro to VR for Kids. And so, our next step is to get a, it’s called a structure sensor that you put on the back of an iPad, and you can capture in 3D whatever it is. It could be a human. It could be the building. Whatever it is. And our hope, what we’re gonna do, is work with the Seminole Historic Society. They’ve got a dinosaur bone, believe it or not. And you can’t really get close to it, you can’t touch it, but we can digitize it through that sensor, right, and then view it on the Merge Cube. Because what you can do with the Merge Cube is you can hold the Merge Cube. You can have your tablet over top of it, and then you can drag the object into space. And so, now we’ve got this huge dinosaur bone in this room that we’re looking through with the tablet. Or, if you have your goggles on, you don’t need to hold anything. You just have them on and you have this big bone. What’s cool now, a lot of browsers, for example, are incorporating this kind of technology. So, think about this for a second. You’re reading an article, right, online, and there’s an example of a 3D object of a bone. You can drag that into reality now and make it large and walk all around it and explore it that way.

 

Alison: So, it’s like the TV shows when they do this.

 

Chad: Yeah.

 

Alison: And the movies where you walk around an object. That’s all coming out. It’s coming true.

 

Chad: Yeah. And the beauty of this project is we’re able to take whatever it is on the phone, bring it into a classroom, elementary kids, or whatever, and say, “Hey, look. Here’s a real dinosaur bone that we’re gonna make a really large so you can see it in the classroom now.” So, we have all these options to bring it anywhere. Instead of just going to that museum, you can bring the bone everywhere.

 

David: It makes a little more believable, too, because even though you have the simulations—I can watch TV, I can see it on the computer—but actually being able to hold something, and manipulate it, and move it, it brings back that extra experience of “This is real.” Even though I know it’s not, but because I can hold it, because I can manipulate it, there is much more buy in with the students with it.

 

Alison: That’s interesting.

 

Chad: And we know we learn more with tactile learning.

 

David: Exactly.

 

Chad: Tactile learning is huge.

 

Alison: Yeah. And I would think a lot of the kids, too, are so used to looking at things on screens and digitally that this is really easy. It makes sense to them. It makes a lot of sense.

 

David: We need to have the classes with parents.

 

Alison: On how to use the cube?

 

David: Exactly.

Alison: Yeah. I’m with you, because it’s such an odd thing to see and you’re like “How does that happen?” But now I’m I’m getting it a little, and it’s kind of fun to see. I mean, this sounds like this could really change what’s happening in the classrooms.

 

David: Absolutely.

 

Chad: It kind of already has. I mean, my eight-year-old son, just the other day they brought in the Google Expedition goggles.

 

Alison: What is that?

 

Chad: So, it’s on your phone. You can download it now. And if you have a Google cardboard thing that you can build yourself, or come to my lab and 3D print something, you can then go on field trips all over the world through Google, and it’s all 360-degree videos. Or, actually, it’s not all video. Some of it’s just photos.  And they just added a thing now called A.R. expeditions which does the same thing. So, imagine a DNA Helix very large in your room that you can walk around now. So, schools are starting to already do this.

 

David: So, with my students, what I have them do, is they take tours of the International Space Station. Merge has a program that you go through. I wear the goggles, and as I’m going around I’m on the space station, walking around. I can go from room to room.

 

Alison: That’s so cool.

 

And you can even buy a lot of this stuff even in stores. Like my daughter, you have the coloring books. And so, you can download the program, color it in, and you take the picture with your phone and all of a sudden that drawing comes to life.

 

Alison: Oh, wow!

 

David: So, it’s out there.

 

Chad: Yeah, we’re living in a great time right now.

 

David: Oh, yeah.

 

Chad: We really are.

 

Alison: Kind of fun. What’s that thing that you wish you guys could do but you can’t do yet?

 

Chad: That’s a good question. I was watching The First, which is a show with Sean Penn, and they’ve got these really nice sunglasses. And they have this mixed reality thing, kind of like—have you heard of the Magic Leap where it’s like you see—it’s sort of holograms floating around, but in your real world?

 

Alison: Okay.

 

Chad: But they’re wearing just regular sunglasses. So, eventually we’re gonna be powering this kind of stuff with something as strong as like a cell phone in your back pocket. That’s what I hope we could have, just simple glasses. We can see amazing things. I could throw a file to you, and can catch it in the air, put in your pocket. Now you’ve got that file.

 

David: And for me, growing up, I was a big Trekkie. So, Star Trek: The Next Generation. You had the holodeck, and you change it into whatever you want. You can be wherever you want to be, and if you think about it, you’re wearing goggles or you wearing like an HTC Vive, a different type of virtual reality headset where you can actually walk around and move and your environment does change, and you’re thinking it’s not that far off.

 

Alison: Right. It seems like classrooms are adopting this more and more. And then you think about industry, and we talk about telehealth and some of the augmented reality, or virtual reality, work that’s happening in working with medical professionals. Like, I might be sitting in a home. I live in rural America, and I need mental health services that aren’t available in my community. I can actually have a counseling session using these types of tools. I’m just curious if you guys are thinking or have heard about other cool uses for this stuff in industry.

 

Chad: Well, I just was on a demo with—it’s called Roomy, and it’s a VR kind of classroom. And so, we could be meeting right now in VR all across the world. And what’s nice is for 3D math lessons you could be in this VR classroom learning about 3D math in 3D. So, it’s hard to use a 2D board and kind of describe something in 3D. You can do it. It’s possible. They’ve been doing it for centuries, but now if you do it in a VR setting, or even AR—Augmented Reality Setting—you can really understand 3D now because it is in 3D.

 

David: Look at the Magic School Bus. I mean, you think of the cartoon, with they are able to do, that’s what you can do.

 

Alison: That’s true.

 

David: You can go and you can take the tours of different planets. You can go and all of these different things. You can actually experience it while doing it.

 

Alison: So, one thing—you guys use the phrases, or the initials, VR and AR. We should probably explain what the differences are. Chad, can you give us a start?

 

Chad: I always say virtual reality is you’re in a completely and totally encompassing environment, so you can’t really tell what’s going on around you. So, if I had a headset on right now, I wouldn’t really know you guys—I mean, I would know you were there, but I’m not going to see you or anything. Whereas, augmented reality is sort of like Pokémon Go, you know, where you just kind of look through your screen. I still see you and I still see David, but then there might be a little unicorn on your shoulder or something. You know?

 

Alison: I gotcha. So, it adds a layer onto what you’re already seeing, which is that’s the augmented reality. And then virtual reality is it’s a whole new space.

 

Chad: Yeah.

 

David: Exactly. It’s complete. So, the way I use to think of it, I’d tell my students, is virtual reality, it’s virtually everything. Augmented, it’s a little piece. So, like this Merge Cube. You think back to a Rubik’s Cube, only that cube is where I see the reality, the computer portion of it, unless I have it launching something like fireworks coming out and they’re exploding. But this is where I see it. Everything else is as you normally would see it through the phone.

 

Alison: Yeah. And I’ve seen some cool things. There’s a local company who did this whole domino game, HD Interactive and I was playing with that at an event one time recently. And it was a lot of fun, because it was basically putting dominoes on the floor right in front of me in this hall. It’s kind of a neat setup.

 

Chad: Yeah, they just did a butterfly one, as well, which was really beautiful.

 

Alison: Oh, did they? We’ll have to do a shout out to HD Interactive.

 

Chad: Absolutely.

 

Alison: Because there’s a lot of folks in the community, I think, who are playing in these areas. And kind of dabbling.

 

Chad: Oh, yeah. HD Interactive is a great company to look into. Good people, too.

 

Alison: Yeah. And I know that they’re also using these kinds of things in tourism now. So, there was apparently—Visit St. Pete Clearwater had an—I’ll guess it would be an augmented reality—I’m not sure which definition would be—of like the beach, and they took it into cities where it was the middle of winter and had people looking at it. Wouldn’t that want to make you take a trip?

 

Chad: Oh, absolutely. Especially in the winter.

 

David: Brilliant marketing, absolutely.

 

Chad: It is. Yeah.

 

Alison: So, a goofy question for you, Chad. What’s a bad day look like for you?

 

Chad: A bad day. I was working on a project where we were—it was a lot of, like, hard labor, believe it or not. And it was to take algae and convert it into—and I’m not a biologist at all. But to convert that into—it was like a photosynthesis process that would eventually convert it into some kind of fossil fuel, which apparently would help eliminate some of the algae blooms. Well, we worked on it for a while. We did press releases. We had it all going. I even went there a few days with the other scientists, and we dug all these trenches and all these holes. Anyway, we never got it done. But you get to a point where you’re like, okay, that’s a bad day, because I killed myself doing all this work and we never got the project off the ground.

 

Alison: What caused it? What do you think?

 

Chad: I think I think we had too much rain, and then—oh, this was last year, actually. This was a while ago/ And then we had the Hurricane that came through. So, we had all these tubes. Hundreds of tubes that aren’t easy to carry that we had to put in the garage and then remove them again. And then we found another space across campus, and so it just got to a point where it was so much work and it just wasn’t happening.

 

Alison: Yeah. Have you had a project like that, David? Just doesn’t go?

 

David: I mean, you’re always going to have the good with the bad. I mean, not necessarily to that extent where the whole thing just kind of fell through. But, bad for us could be anything minor from like piloting. So, for example, we just launched this Monday. So, Tuesday bringing in the class. Okay, well it doesn’t work with this. Okay, why is it not working with this? Oh, it froze. But it didn’t freeze on this one. So, it’s all those little kinks working out where you know you have something great, and I want to make sure everyone gets that same exposure and that same impact with it. But why is it not working here? So, it’s a little bit of a challenge, but it’s also a little bit of a….

 

Chad: Yeah, and I’ll go off that, too, because I think a lot of STEM activities should be, in my opinion: let’s figure it out. If you have a mindset of: “Let’s figure this out. Why is it not working?” that’s what STEM is all about, in my opinion. Because I’m not a scientist. I’m not a technologist, really. I’m not an engineer, not a mathematician. I’m none of those. I’m technically a librarian, but I have this curiosity about things and I have a desire to figure things out. And if if you don’t have that desire you’re not going to do well in that field.

 

Alison: Right, because that’s what frustrates people so much about technology, is little variables that always cause it to go haywire. And we always talk about our youth having resiliency, and as individuals being able to deal with “Hey, this didn’t work the way I thought it would.” And I also expect there’s probably more than one answer to these problems that you guys are grappling with.

 

Chad: Usually, yes.

 

Alison: So, you can kind of—you don’t know what the end result will be.

 

David: Right. And children, like you said, are the most resilient to this. There was a popular experiment done where you have 30 pieces of spaghetti, 30 marshmallows, and you have to build the highest tower. You would have kindergartners. You would have engineers. You would have high schoolers. Kindergarteners always did the best, because when it didn’t work there was no fear like, “Okay, why didn’t it work? So, it’s those skills.

 

Alison: Yeah. I’m involved in a group and they use that activity sometimes as sort of a team—and it is right. It’s the iterations, the teams that immediately give it up and go to the next iteration. And I think that’s a lot of what innovation is about. I always jokingly say in the Innovation District, we’re going to try a whole bunch, and there’s going to be stuff that fails and it’s going to fail beautifully! It’s going to be so bad!

 

Chad: Well, penicillin was discovered accidentally, so….

 

Alison: Post-its were accidental.

 

Chad: Yeah.

 

David: But, that’s what STEM is, and I try to tell my students. When I started teaching, I wanted my students to know physics, and that’s what I wanted/ And that was what’s important. If they could tell me what the laws were. Now it’s like, it’s the process. It’s the “How did we come up with this?” It didn’t work. Okay. What are those problem-solving skills? And that really transcends beyond STEM into all your disciplines. And so, I think that’s why people are realizing stem is so important. It’s not so much just the content, but it’s that train of thought, it’s that problem-solving. How do we get this to work and what do we get to do with it?

 

Chad: Exactly.

 

Alison: Very true. So, what do you, Chad, look at? What do community members need to know about the innovation lab? I know you offer some classes for kids in the summer and things like that. What else should they know?

 

Chad: They should know that it’s free. It is open to anybody. It is grant-funded, so if I don’t have what you’re looking for, let’s work as a team and try to get it. And we do that often. I do workshops, quite a few through the summer, but always throughout the throughout the year, as well. And it’s just come in, explore what we have, and learn something new. Our slogan is dream, think, create. So, it gives them a chance to come in and really—and we have a huge library in there now, so they can kind of read and see what’s possible. And that’s usually what I do, is like show off, “Hey, this technology is able to do this. Let me show you a few examples and then you should take it to the next level.”

 

Alison: So, you’re not just dealing with students at St. Pete College, but anyone in the community.

 

Chad: Exactly.

 

Alison: And you mentioned earlier, and I think it’s worth reminding, or noting, is you were saying you did a coding class for kids down in Midtown. So, you’re taking it on the road a little bit.

 

Chad: Quite a bit, actually.

 

Alison: Are you? Okay.

 

Chad: Yeah. I go to elementary schools a lot. I went to Madeira Beach Fundamental, and I worked with over 90 faculty, not this summer, but last summer, to demystify STEM, because they’re supposed to integrate STEM activities in their classes and they’re like, “We don’t know what to do!” I’m like, look, again I’m not a scientist, but this is what you can do to introduce this kind of stuff. Like, one example is we designed a fidget spinner. Those aren’t really cool with the kids anymore, but we 3D printed it, and we went out and bought some skateboard bearings, and we built our own fidget spinner. But, the kids learned what friction is, and what velocity is, and all this kind of stuff. And you can do a lot with STEM with very little.

 

Alison: Yeah, that does strike me. I mean, I saw your space and it’s a lot of “Well, let’s try this, build this, piece together—” I know you had some parts. You’re like, “Someday I’m gonna do something with this!”

 

Chad: Exactly.

 

Alison: And it’s got the elements of something. I can see the vision. You’ve got to have, I think, a lot of vision to say, “Well, that’s possible that that could happen.”

 

Chad: Right.

 

Alison: Yeah. And then what’s the intent of the STEM Lab at USF St. Petersburg? How would that be used?

 

David: So, our grand opening is gonna be the St. Petersburg Science Festival. So, that Saturday we’re gonna be open to the public, and so we invite everyone to come up. It’s gonna be a combination of robotics working with Vex or Lego Mindstorms. Mostly Vex. I do work with augmented virtual reality, as well, so we’re gonna have headsets there available. We have 3D printing, laser printing. We’re going to be putting in makerspaces. So, the idea is simply—within the College of Education, yes, we train teachers, and so we can’t train them on what’s happening today. You have to be innovative. We need to move forward and think “What are they going to be experiencing five years down the road? What’s gonna be happening?” So, that’s why we’re trying to work with these things. But, the College of Education isn’t just for the students who are in it. It’s a resource, as well, for the community. So, looking at, coming in to see, going to be a makerspace, working with home school students, working with groups, bringing them on campus, saying, “What can we do? How can we work together to have these partnerships?” and, you know, use it as a resource for the entire community.

 

Alison: Yeah. I think that’s great, because I think this is a lot of fun for kids. It gets them excited about science and STEAM or STEM, depending on which way you slice it.

 

David: And it’s for everybody. We were at a STEM badge-a-thon for Girl Scouts, and there was 160 Girl Scouts there doing robotics and STEM, and they loved it. They were eating it up. They want that.

 

Alison: Right. I think a lot of kids do. And adults, too, because I think we use the kids as an excuse to be able to play.

 

Chad: Well, yeah. Even in our VR for Kids workshop, we did four, and two of the parents were there, and they stayed for all four.

 

Alison: They stayed for the whole thing?

 

Chad: They were interested in it, and they were doing it too.

 

Alison: That’s awesome.

 

Chad: But they got to create VR. Then we got to go in and we got to view it on an HTC Vive, so they were pretty blown away by it.

 

Alison: Was that—I saw on Facebook you had posted where some of the kids had made like dogs? Was that it?

 

Chad: Yeah, that could run through their little environment, and they could interact and do all kinds of stuff with them. It’s fun.

 

Alison: Yeah, it’s their own little automated dog thing. So, that’s kind of cool. Who inspires you guys in science and technology? So, if someone’s listening, they’re like “Who do these guys look to?”

 

Chad: Well, I mean, that’s a that’s a good question. I think Elon Musk, because it seems like he can take the impossible and make it possible. He doesn’t really care what anybody thinks.

 

Alison: That is true.

 

David: He put a car in space.

 

Alison: Why not?

 

David: Why not.

 

Chad: Let’s prove that we can do it. Let’s show this payload that it’s possible. So, yeah, he’s probably one of my big ones. And then Carl Sagan. He could explain very complex concepts, I think, and make it understandable for someone that’s not a physicist or an astronomer. There’s probably a thousand others I can’t think of right now.

 

David: Yeah, you could even say like Steve Jobs or Bill and Melinda Gates. I mean, how you know few people were able to have such an amazing impact. I mean, look at what they’ve done. Robert Noyce, who created a lot of the semiconductor chips, and even growing up you had Bill Nye and now Neil deGrasse [Tyson] being advocates. But I think one of ones really for me is Aomawa Shields, who does research in looking for planets that could possibly contain life. But she also does a lot of work in rising star girls and getting youth interested. And so, actually a leader in her scientific community, but also really putting forth that community effort to bring more people into it. So, it’s individuals like that that really get me motivated and excited.

 

Alison: Yeah. It’s very cool, and I’m amazed in our community—young, old, deep experienced in technology, new to technology—the breadth. A couple days ago, AARP, based here in Florida, did a pitch fest for people who were developing technologies for caregivers. So, this is not only someone that may be elderly, but also chronic illness. And if you’re dealing with a family member who has a lot of medical procedures, medical challenges, you’ve got a whole different world that you’re dealing with. And I was really struck by some of the companies-  the age variation of the folks pitching. We had millennials who were dealing with parents with chronic illnesses. And then all the way through to older adults who maybe a spouse or partner had been having some issues as they aged. And I thought that was great. It’s almost the equalizer.

 

David: I see that all the time. Like, my students, some of them have never experienced virtual reality and putting the headset on. And then you see the same expressions as my 60-year-old, 70-year-old uncle who’s never experience virtual reality. And it’s the exact same responses of like—

 

Chad: It’s the best, right?

 

David: Oh, I love it.

 

Chad: That’s one of my favorite parts my job, actually, is to—“Oh, you’ve never tried virtual reality before? Okay.” You give him a little overview of what to expect a little bit, but to see that expression. And you’re right. Kids are the same as a 70—like, my mom tried the HoloLens for the first time, which is similar to the Merge Cube, but you’re seeing it. She was just—and she’s a Trekkie—blown away. Couldn’t get it off of her. I’m like, “You’ve got to share!” And when she tried the VR stuff, she was just—so, that experience for me is great. I get to experience it a lot.

 

Alison: That’s awesome.

 

Chad: That first time experience is great.

 

Alison: Anything I haven’t brought up that you guys want to bring up for today?

 

Chad: Well, I’m working on a project now that’s technically not STEM, but it could be, I guess. For years I’ve been wanting to bring a listening lab in to the Gibbs Campus, which is in St. Pete. And we’ve got a pretty large donation, and so now I’m going through the process of cataloging things. But what’s cool about it, though, is we’ve got some turntables, and we’ve got a big C.D. collection, most of which I’m donating of my own collection.

Alison: So, we get to see your musical tastes.

 

Chad: Yeah, which is varied. Lots of stuff in there. But, what was really nice is I walked in the other day, and there was a student that had his laptop, and he had it connected to the turntable, and he was sampling old jazz records. And I was like that’s kind of like a maker space because he’s going to take from something, kind of modify it, remix it into his own thing. And I was like, “This is a pretty cool.”

 

Alison: That’s very cool.

 

Chad: So, that’s one of my projects. My love is music, and so you could do a lot, by the way, with like the physics of sound and all that, as it relates to the sciences and music as well. So, it’s just been a fun thing to work on.

 

Alison: And that’s at the St. Pete College Gibbs Campus, which is the one on 66 street. The original St. Pete College Campus.

 

Chad: Yup. Fifth Avenue U is what they used to call it.

 

Alison: Oh, there you go. Yes, I do remember that. Very cool. Anything else for you, David?

 

David: So, I know you might be thinking summer’s not even over yet, but looking forward to next summer, as you know, we had our first very successful robotics camp at USF St. Petersburg, and we’re going to be doing the same things. So, having students come in, learning some STEM, but mostly learning robotics, and how to program, and how to code it, and how to do some of the different activities, whether it’s going through a maze, playing soccer, having a jazz or having a dance competition at the very end with the robots.

 

Alison: Oh, that’d be fun.

 

David: It was pretty interesting to see some of the things they were doing with it. So, that’s something to definitely keep on your calendar, or if you have a rising fifth through eighth grader and you want them to do a summer camp, then that’s something to keep in mind, moving forward.

 

Alison: And will the information on that be out on the school’s website?

 

David: Yes. Exactly.

 

Alison: Okay. So, probably after the New Year, do you think?

 

David: After the New Year. Probably February. So, we’ll do our kickoff first, and we’re going to be doing a whole bunch of fun things with that. And then we’ll be getting into the summer activities, as well.

 

Alison: Okay, and I’ll make sure on the Innovation District website we put that info so people can find it, and the same with the information about the things that Chad’s got going on.

 

Chad: Great. Thank you, Bill.

 

Alison: Cool. All right. Well, thank you, gentlemen. I really appreciate it. It was lots of fun to chat with you.

 

Chad: It was. Thank you for having us.

 

David: Yeah, thank you. It was a pleasure.

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About the host

Alison Barlow is the Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District. Her role is to harness expertise in health science, marine science, education, and art to form unique collaborations. These multi-sector, cross discipline collaborations strive to identify innovative solutions that will grow the economic and social vibrancy of St. Petersburg and address key global issues. Alison grew up in St. Petersburg, graduated from Boca Ciega High School, received a Bachelors in Hospitality Administration from Florida State University, and later a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Management of Global Information Systems from American University in Washington D.C. For 17 years, Alison worked as a business and technology consultant based in Washington DC, often for the Department of Defense. She focused on strategic planning, process improvement and technology collaboration. Following her relocation back to St. Petersburg, Alison became the manager and a lead facilitator for Collaborative Labs at St. Petersburg College. Alison joined the St. Petersburg Innovation District as its inaugural Executive Director in June of 2017. In addition to her work, Alison is involved with the Leadership St. Petersburg Alumni Association, Friends of Strays Animal Shelter Board, and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.


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