Gregg Behr, Champion of Change, at the White House last Friday.

Pittsburgh’s maker movement is gaining more momentum than ever, earning accolades from the White House while helping to lead—in a major way—a nationwide network of tinkerers, inventors and entrepreneurs.

President Obama’s Nation of Makers Initiative recognized several Pittsburgh leaders in hands-on maker learning last week, as the White House kicked off its National Week of Making from June 17th to June 23rd. Over the last few years, access to maker spaces has encouraged local students and educators to learn by exploring and experimenting with technology from 3D printers to design computers.

The City of Pittsburgh, several members of the local Remake Learning Network, five Pittsburgh area school districts, and local nonprofits and philanthropists shared their plans as part of the Nation of Makers:

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh:  Google pledged $1 million to develop a national strategy to support Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and California-based nonprofit Maker Ed to build more than 100 new maker spaces as part of a new Making Spaces program. The partnership will bring making into schools, libraries, nonprofits and recreation and community centers for long-lasting results, according to a press release. After running a pilot of the program from 2015-16 with 10 schools in southwestern Pennsylvania, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh will serve as the primary hub for educational institutions in the eastern half of the country for the 2016-17 school year.

“We are thrilled to be able to scale this program to the national level to get more youth the resources needed to start tinkering, creating and making,” says Jane Werner, executive director of Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.  “A unique program that began in our region can now benefit youth around the country.”

City of Pittsburgh: Five recreation centers in Pittsburgh will undergo a “rec-to-tech” makeover, thanks to the efforts of the City of Pittsburgh, the Sprout Fund and organizations from the Remake Learning Network. These tech-enhanced rec centers will fill a void in neighborhoods with limited access to the internet and technology education and will serve as an example for other cities interested in rec-to-tech, says Ani Martinez of the Sprout Fund.

“Sprout will help to convene major players in out-of-school time programs to transform these rec centers, but also to keep our ears and our practice open to working with other cities that have expressed interest in a rec-to-tech project,” Martinez says.

The Grable Foundation: The White House honored Grable Foundation Executive Director Gregg Behr last week as a Champion of Change for his role in building the Remake Learning Network and for his efforts in organizing Remake Learning Days. The Remake Learning Network is a professional coalition of educators and innovators representing more than 250 organizations; Remake Learning Days is a regional campaign that secured commitments from more than 150 organizations totaling more than $25 million pledged to new education opportunities in southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

maker movement
Gregg Behr (left) with the White House’s Roberto Rodriguez
Gregg Behr (left) with the White House’s Roberto Rodriguez

“Pittsburgh was celebrated at numerous times by White House officials,” Behr says. “The creative and caring efforts by thousands of educators, makers and technologists over the past decade to remake learning across the Pittsburgh region has been noticed by the highest of offices.”

The local school districts recognized for providing cutting-edge maker learning opportunities to students are Avonworth School District, Elizabeth Forward High School, Fox Chapel Area School District, South Fayette High School and Fort Cherry School District.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Melanie is a free-lance copywriter and journalist whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Venus Zine and Maniac Magazine.