Andrew Kettenis from IBM shares his experience of volunteering at Mini Maker Faire

Our latest guest blog post is from Andrew Kettenis, an IBM Business Consultant and superstar volunteer at Mini Maker Faire 2017. Read on to find out about Andrew’s experience volunteering with us at our biggest Mini Maker Faire yet.

“It’s a sunny afternoon in Vauxhall and I’m looking for an…Institute? Workshop? Laboratory? Actually I’m not too sure what I’m looking for, or what to expect for that matter. Google Maps has me peregrinating in the direction of a little riverside street and eventually, a gargantuan warehouse that looks nothing like a place kids would go to learn things… There’s no playground, no teacher offering a perfunctory usher into the building and definitely no classrooms. An Institute of Imagination (iOi) flag is billowing outside the open shutter that spans half the length of the building and I’m pretty sure I’ve arrived.

As a kid, anything beseeching the use of “imagination” that wasn’t me and my friends setting fire to a bin in the woods behind my house and dancing around it like something out of a William Golding novel seemed pretty redundant. Painfully silent creative writing classes and highly structured mandala drawing didn’t feel very imaginative, or exciting, at all. Instead now, I find myself greeted by smiling fellow volunteers who look like they’d also have spent their early years throwing tankers of lighter fluid at open flames or nailing wooden planks into the side of their neighbour’s house as footholds. I’m now excited to see what the day entails, peering into a building that’s starting to look better suited to Charles Xavier than Miss Trunchbull.

Before I can begin to wonder where to look for Cerebro, Kathryn, the Team Operations Manager for iOi and my new life line, beams at me from the front desk. She introduces herself, hands me a (surprisingly stylish and well fitting) t-shirt and guides me into the warehouse itself. Curiously like the children who would later join us, my “please don’t leave me alone” look instantly turns to the wide-eyed glare of a burgeoning explorer as the “Maker Faire” unfolds in front of me. Individual stalls bespatter a huge open space, each vastly distinct from the last. A retro video games station is naturally the first thing to catch my eye as Kathryn guides me past the kind of experiments, crafts and activities I would have broken out of the house for as a kid. I grab a drink, change my t-shirt, and am introduced to Robert.Robert is a man who looks like he was born to cure crippling boredom. On introduction I imagine him to be a kind of eccentric professor come Bob Ross who injects classrooms with a chaotic whimsy, half as an affront to the mundanity of contemporary education and half to satisfy his own creative spirit. In fact that turns out to be exactly what Robert does. Teacher by day, mechanist by night, he designs and creates all manner of mechanical toy kits, some even outfitted with programmable circuitry …(shameless plug alert, check out Robert’s Workshop’s website or follow him on Instagram)… Before the day officially starts he takes monumentous joy in showing me how to programme one of the car-bots (actually the joy is all mine) and I learn how to build the balloon powered car kits that would later enthral brilliant kids and confuse parents.

And this, come 10am is how the day goes. Kids bustle around a STEM wonderland making their way through the countless stalls and hubbub, sometimes coerced into activities by curious parents and sometimes the reverse. “Well, this is a balloon car, and this one is an elastic band car. Do you want to make one?” Is the answer to the adorably inexorable question that precedes the meticulous construction and testing (aka launching across the warehouse floor) of the beloved and ingenious little contraptions. Some kids love the challenge of building something ostensibly so simple, some just want to pick the best colours for their own creation and some want something cool to take home. But all of them, like me, experience the magic of Robert’s Workshop, and of the Institute of Imagination itself.

The end of the day approaches at about the speed of a fully inflated balloon car, and as the manic begins to wind down Robert gives me a gentle nudge from the nest, sending me off to go explore some of the other stalls I’ve been missing out on for getting carried away in the workshop. Every visit proffers something special. From Arduino football robots to a giant laser cutter and everything between, my feeling of excitement seems to reflect the enthralled look encapsulated by so many other faces that circulate the room.

These feelings endure even as I help to clear up the fallout while families leave, as I say a warm goodbye and exchange details with Robert, as I reluctantly hand back my t-shirt (I’ll be going back to the next event for it) and thank everyone at iOi for the incredible experience. They thank me with ten times the gusto. I can’t help but feel like this sentiment is the essence of the iOi’s Maker Faire: A common sense of exploration, a commitment to fun, and of course, imagination.”

The Institute of Imagination is always looking for great volunteers. If you’d like to volunteer for iOi, simply complete this short form and we’ll be in touch to let you know about upcoming opportunities.


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