Kate Krontiris

‘If You Break It, You Fix It’ and Other Creeds of the Young Makers Among Us

Editor’s Note: Intel Corporation and Ashoka Changemakers are managing the online competition, She Will Innovate, to find the world’s most innovative solutions that equip girls and women with new digital technologies. This article originally appeared on the Ashoka Changemakers’ blog.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting 11-year-old Raven Holston-Turner. The day I met her, she had henna tattoos all over her hands and was handling a digital soldering iron.

A native of Detroit, Raven solders badges that light up, creates gigantic puppets, and sews Indian saris. She says that when she first started soldering — at the Mt. Elliot Makerspace in the bottom of a local church — she couldn’t stop. “I just kept soldering and soldering and soldering,” she said. Raven thinks that the coolest thing she has ever made was an enormous puppet for Mardi Gras festival and while she is working on a robotic arm right now, her next project is going to be a remote-controllable RC car.

Among the things she learned from making these various inventions is patience: “something doesn’t just build itself overnight, you’ve got to build it yourself,” she says. She’s also learned that if something breaks, you don’t just go buy something else. “If you break it, you fix it.” When I met Raven about a month ago, her dream was to study journalism at Harvard University. In her free time, she writes stories and reads books — oh, and takes for a ride in the park a bike that she constructed herself. Even though she has now taught over 200 people how to solder and displayed her inventions across the United States, Raven says that her heroine is still her mom.

She’s not all that different from Kelvin Doe, even though he’s about five years older and from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

What is notable about Kelvin, aside from his sweet smile and humble personality, is the fact that he built an entire FM radio station and a generator all from spare parts. When the generator is not being used to provide electricity to his home in Sierra Leone, it powers his radio broadcasts. Kelvin is a DJ — his professional name is “DJ Focus” — and he keeps a regular schedule of parties and events, for which he uses his custom-made music mixer, salvaged CD player, and hand-hacked antennna to make sure that the whole neighborhood can tune into the fun. The community has come to expect regular radio content from DJ Focus, so he has hired a few of his friends to serve as reporters and station managers. This cadre of crew members interviews fans at local sports games and manages operations for the station.

At some point in his development as an inventor, Kelvin got sick of paying for batteries, so he opened up one he had lying around to inspect the contents. He saw various kinds of metal and some acid, and decided he could replicate the mechanism himself. After scrounging for the component parts in the garbage bins by his house, Kelvin dumped the materials in a tin container, let it dry, and secured entire thing with tape. After a few attempts, he had successfully created his own battery. Kelvin’s mom is certainly grateful, since it is the voltage from this battery that keeps her mobile phone fully charged.

I had the opportunity to get to know Kelvin and Raven when they were invited to present their inventions at the World Maker Faire in September (you can watch Kelvin, Raven, and their peers describe their inventions here). Kelvin’s visit was facilitated through Global Minimum, an organization that launched a national high school innovation challenge for which Kelvin and his teammates were among the winners.

The World Maker Faire is a two-day event that convenes “makers” from all over the earth to show off the useful, kooky, colorful, technical, and jaw-dropping contraptions that they have come up with. “Invention, creativity, and resourcefulness” are the values that drive its creed and evidence of that can be found in every demo booth, populated by participants who represent a rainbow of ages, ethnicities, genders, talents, and nationalities.

What binds these individuals together, however, is a deep sense of pride in being a maker. These are people who see a need for something in their own lives — or the lives of their neighbors, or schoolmates, or industry peers — and instead of complaining, or buying something, they make it. They make alternative energy, and bicycles, and computers, and crafts, and food, and furniture, and GPS devices, and robots, and tools, and toys, and wearable devices, and magic. They make these things from the parts they have around them, or from ideas they brainstorm with friends, or from inspiration they find online. They make their inventions individually and in groups, at school and at home, with all the perfect equipment or with just the bare minimum. They think into the future for the rest of us, and they help us realize that we need not be bound by the constraints we imagine for the world.

Raven, Kelvin, and their peers are scientists, engineers, and artists and they represent what we aspire for future generations of young people: that they may be “makers” of whatever craft they pursue, that they may have access to the resources that will fuel their creativity, and that they may flourish in a world that realizes their talents and puts their capabilities to full use.

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Kate Krontiris serves as a principal at Reboot, a service design firm that uses ethnographic approaches to help leading institutions develop solutions that improve lives and livelihoods.

Education, Technology