Students in 25 Wisconsin school districts will soon have access to new fabrication equipment allowing them to gain valuable job training as part of Wisconsin’s Fab Labs Grant Program. As winners of the program’s first grant competition, these school districts will build educational fabrication laboratories (Fab Labs) that help students prepare for futures in manufacturing.

Part of an educational push by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), Fab Labs encourage invention and innovative thinking by providing a space for prototyping, complete with off-the-shelf fabrication and electronics tools used in the industry, as well as open source software and programs developed by MIT researchers for CBA.

Hands-on programs such as those offered by the Fab Lab make collaboration and cross-curricular learning possible for students in an array of distinct fields such as art, business education and engineering.

“Guaranteeing our students have the skills necessary to compete in our rapidly growing, technology-driven world is critical to our economy,” Governor Scott Walker said. “Fab Labs provide hands-on learning to the next generation of workers to provide our students with the skills they need to obtain good-paying jobs. This ensures everyone who wants a job in Wisconsin can find a job.”

Fab Labs are quickly gaining traction with more than 400 locations worldwide – up from 100+ in 2013 – spanning a global community whose knowledge base stretches over 30 countries and 24 time zones. Despite their wide reach, Fab Labs have great synergy potential due to the fact that they all utilize similar tools and processes.

Funding for the Fab Labs Grant Program was included in Governor Walker’s 2015-17 biennial budget, amounting to $500,000 made available through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). WEDC also supported the initiative by bringing in an additional $101,000 to provide grants of up to $25,000 per school district for the creation and/or expansion of Fab Labs across the state. Winners are required to match the funds they receive.

Grant recipients were selected among 90 applicants and more than $2 million in funding requests, and were assessed on proof of long-range planning, curriculum, partnerships and financial need. More information on the Fab Labs Grant Program can be found here.