MANASSAS, VA – On January 13, 2020, Northern Virginia Community College opened the doors to a state-of-the-art engineering technology Fabrication Laboratory. The week-long event kicked off with a prestigious ribbon-cutting to thank members of the institution's partners in the business and legislative community for the support of engineering technology programs. The "Fab Lab" for short, will serve as a hub to the developing technology workforce and support NOVA's industry-aligned Engineering Technology program. It will also be leveraged by NOVA's STEM outreach program, NOVA SySTEMic, to inspire K-12 interest and encourage future generations to pursue careers in engineering technology.
The creation of the project is in response to the many expanding technology companies in the Northern Virginia region. Companies that have spearheaded tech partnerships with NOVA like Micron Technology Inc., one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers in the world, will invest $3 billion to expand memory chip production capabilities at its Manassas plant, with plans to create 1,100 new jobs by 2030. The project was a collaboration with GoVirginia, Micron, U.S. Army's Night Vision and Sensors Directorate, and BAE Systems.
The Fab Lab will allow interested innovators access to a space to lay the educational base for fulfilling future job opportunities. "The space is about letting everyone know that this is the career path for them. More often than naught, people may not see themselves in this capacity. 'WE DO STEM' – it's about moving the region forward," said NOVA's new President, Dr. Anne Kress. "What we are celebrating is more than a cool learning space. What we show is industry-aligned, and industry required training labs. The facility represents our dedication at NOVA for industry pathways that drive our regional economies."
The spaces available in the Fab Lab, such as a 'Woodshop,' 'Maker's Space,' 'Computer Control & Computer Design Center,' and '3-D Printing Workshop', provide the building blocks for careers in engineering technology. It is an open-access and inclusive multi-nodal innovator space with the mission to apply STEM principles and integrating it into easy and applicable concepts for all levels of interested students. The space will serve a range of needs for K-12 participants, college-ready students, industry professionals looking for the latest and greatest session to build their repertoire, to teacher development in advanced machinery training.
The series of events offered after the commemorative ribbon-cutting included demonstrations in the Fab Lab, such as STEM field trips and introductions to the lab's CNC Router (48" x 48"). 'Lunch & Learn' opportunities for faculty and staff were held Tuesday and Thursday in the lab. Discussions included the capabilities of the Fab Lab and trends in additive manufacturing and robotics. On Thursday night, the Fab Lab hosted a Robotics Night Open House, where 66 attendees of all ages had the opportunity to use and learn about five different robotic systems. Two training sessions occurred on VEX IQ robots in which participants learned how to program and manipulate the robots. On Friday, the weeklong series of events closed with a 'College Open House.' Ninty attendees learned how to use equipment to build molds and use a plastic thermoforming machine, make an LED Monster with sewable circuitry, play with electronic circuits and sensors, try their hand at robotic challenges, laser-cut fabric, practice CAD drawing, and observe some woodworking demos. Due to weather conditions, the Saturday (January 18) 'Community Fab Lab Open House' was rescheduled for March 14, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In the fall of 2018, NOVA was approved for a historic first round of project grants to create the Fab Lab at the College's Manassas Campus. The Fab Lab will provide resources needed to grow and strengthen the current and future engineering technology workforce in Northern Virginia. The GO Virginia Board of Directors comprises of members of the Governor's cabinet, the General Assembly, the business community, and others who approved more than $2.2 million in GO Virginia Per Capita grant funding for five projects throughout the Commonwealth.
Following such a prestigious event, NOVA SySTEMic, Northern Virginia Community College's STEM Outreach program will hold a premier signature event called 'Night at the Museum.' This is a two-day VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) signature event at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., on January 30, 2020, and on January 31, 2020.
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.