A welded go-kart; a fully-functional 2D platforming game; an oak-and-steel indoor planter sold to a fellow maker.
These were just some of the projects students took a lead on over the last year at MakersXD, an academy for young makers inside Hacker Lab. And from before last year? Ryan Nolan, who got his start with the youth program, grew up and went on to work for Weta Digital, taking his knowledge and creating 3D models for Game of Thrones.
As part of Hacker Lab’s new class packs discounts program, offering classes in bulk to help members level-up, Hacker Lab is featuring stories on the people and groups that make Hacker Lab special.
Like many products, MakerXD was built at Hacker Lab.
After several iterations, from Sac Maker Academy to the now MakersXD, the charter vendor inside Hacker Lab's midtown location is launching its new summer program, teaching students to build a go-kart, create tabletop and video games, become a youtuber, code laser tanks, craft an escape room puzzle, make animated shorts, craft jewelry and so much more.
The relaunch of MakerXD began in March, preceded by five years of growth inside Hacker Lab. The school moved in to the prior location in 2013 after a chance meeting with Hacker Lab's CEO Gina Lujan, design teacher Brannon Harris said.
"Hacker Lab did such a good job of pushing us up. We came to them with an idea and they were supportive. That's the only reason this maker academy exists: because of that leg up," Harris said.
Today, youth tinker alongside manufacturers, makers and entrepreneurs, adding to Hacker Lab's diverse community of builders and dreamers.
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For Harris, the story begins in Alkali Flat at Wayne Geri Academy, the original blue Victorian private school Dr. Robert Calvert began creating a maker-style education within.
The space was small, with a wood shop squeezed next to math, English and science programs, Harris said. When Calvert and Harris advocated for student agency with a focus on making, six students came on board.
"The rest of the parents told us we were nuts. Robert and I took those six kids and started looking for other buildings; then Anita and Gina walked into the building."
Hacker Lab CEO Gina Lujan was seeking a program for her daughter Anita. Harris needed a laser cutter. He found the facilities at Hacker Lab ideal; Calvert traded Anita's education for space and the rest is history.
"I remember walking into their office and asking, 'How does it sound to build a maker academy here and call it Sac Makers?; Gina and Eric looked at me and asked, 'How does $800 a month sound?'"
With minimal overhead, Calvert and Harris were able to launch Sac Makers a year after Hacker Lab in 2013.
Those first years were a lot of iteration, constantly changing with post-mortems on weekends, taking no funding until they felt the product was the best it could be.
Originally, the program was more free-flowing; Calvert and Harris asked students what they wanted to learn. Calvert's PhD thesis research on the value of structured education showed them young students praised the amount of structure they had in their life.
That led to a set of four-week classes that have become standard. However, Harris said, the student-agency focus remains.
"The R&D when we grew was to let it be as open as possible; let our doors be glass so the kids' outcomes can sing for themselves. Our students were teaching older folks about the laser," Harris said. "The name of the game is real teachers, real results."
"People used to not care about this, but now it's trendy—fulfilled kids. Kids who aren't wild at home. We kept getting comments back, 'He tends to deal with life now and doesn't want to leave Sac Makers.'"
MakersXD has since grown to three teachers: Brannon Harris, design; Trent Dean, a furniture designer who teaches shop; and Ryan Regall, the newest teacher for technology and problem-solving, like escape rooms.
Calvert recruited Harris to his tackle football team as a youth, keeping in touch as Harris went on to do design and plastic fabrication at a shop in midtown.
Dean taught himself everything about furniture design at Hacker Lab and went on to become a designer for West Elm, building pieces and presenting at shows. He was recruited inside Hacker Lab.
"Trent is a rockstar. We loved his design and work ethic; that's the ideal of what our maker students can be for Sacramento," Harris said.
Regall was teaching Hacker Lab's 3D-printer classes when he was tapped to teach electronics, Assembly, C, Python and NodeJS.
"This is a design/code/build academy. We found we had a need for tech; nine months later, we have two classes of tech in the summer," Harris said.
Making the future
Students can be found turning baseball bats in the maker space, tuning up Arduino computers and selling their own works inside Hacker Lab.
Nolan took his education in 3D modeling and after working in the industry and for Game of Thrones, guided the curriculem for 3D modeling to include Maya, Unreal Engine and Houdini, various modeling platforms.
Felix, a student this year, learned how to be a builder, designer and coder and took those skills to make a Mario-style game where characters are sucked into a world where they must use tech items to succeed, including a big smart watch.
"When you die, there's a chance of memory corruption. Using the RFID to enter Hacker Lab every day gave him the idea," Harris said.
The go-kart idea was another experiment Calvert found students loved and is one of the most popular classes.
Casey, another of thes tudents, made an oak and steel indoor side-table. She used a MIG welder and learned to use wooden jigs to keep the metal in place at exactly 90 degrees. Since it was for a fellow maker, the welds had to be precise.
Harris said it was all part of giving students a leg up and helping them learn for themselves.
"We want to teach students to be fulfilled and adaptive. There's 20-30 percent more parents in this region that seem to get that, because of Hacker Lab and others who push for that culture here," Harris said. "Art matters more than ever; people know education is missing something. That's where maker culture comes in: You have to satisfy and maintain yourself, find your passion and give goods and services your community wants with those resources and tools you haven't discovered yet."
"The key here is: Discover them," Harris said with a grin.