Making a difference

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By Optic Editorial Board

It may have started off as a master’s thesis project, but the Parachute Factory makerspace that Las Vegas native Mariano Ulibarri launched in February is still going strong. And we, as a community, are better off because of it.

A makerspace is a do-it-yourself environment that brings people together to create, tinker and repair items. The makerspace movement has its foundation in Hacker Scouts, a national nonprofit that formed in Oakland, Calif., in 2012, to help kids build skills and creativity in science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Ulibarri established the fifth Hacker Scouts guild in the country four months ago. Since then it has grown with about 50 local kids between the ages of 7 and 16 meeting weekly at Parachute Factory at 166 Bridge St. to work on 3-D printing, electronic textiles using microcontrollers, and video game development. The students use computer programming to make their visions come to life. One kid, for example, turned an electric guitar into a controller for his computer.

If you’re wondering why Parachute Factory matters, it’s because it is engaging the youth in our community and getting them excited about something.

That’s a wonderful accomplishment, particularly in this day and age when schools are so focused on making the grade on state-mandated tests that they often sacrifice projects that teach kids to be creative.

Ulibarri’s Parachute Factory is helping kids rekindle their curiosity, and that has them excited and wanting more.  

It’s also worth noting that Ulibarri is on the cutting-edge of this movement, with cities like New York, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles following suit.

That has brought Las Vegas some good publicity. Indeed, Elizabeth Neeley, with the Art Institute of Chicago, called the Las Vegas Parachute Factory “a fantastic model for grassroots makerspaces.”

That’s quite an accomplishment for Ulibarri, a fourth-generation Las Vegas photographer who graduated from Highlands University in May with a master’s in media arts. Ulibarri founded Parachute Factory with help from Adam Caldwell and Aaron Juarros. The three Vegas natives left to different corners of the globe and returned home with a better understanding of the world and a greater appreciation for the place they came from.

Los Alamos National Security LLC, which helped fund Parachute Factory, also deserves praise for investing in a project that’s making a difference.

If you want to see the type of work these kids are producing, you’ll have the opportunity on June 29 when the Las Vegas Hacker Scouts showcase their work for the community from 1 to 7 p.m. at Parachute Factory. If you want to support the work that Ulibarri is doing, write a check to the New Mexico Highlands University Foundation, which is serving as the fiscal agent. Donations are tax-deductible, but be sure to write “Parachute Factory” in the memo line.