Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC)

The Tri-County Makerspace Project, a collaborative initiative, spanning Armstrong, Indiana, and Cambria counties, includes IUP’s STEAMSHOP, a new digital electronics-focused satellite site at RIDC Armstrong Innovation Park, and MADE in Johnstown.

These makerspaces aim to address specific regional needs while sharing resources to maximize impact on western Pennsylvania’s workforce and economic landscape.

The BBBRC mission includes opportunities and support to leverage robotics, drones, safety science research, and artificial intelligence across the workplace, with a focus on bringing skills, training, and equipment to residents and fostering a dynamic environment for prototyping, building, and manufacturing.

On March 22nd, an overview presentation was held geared toward educators, industry representatives, government, and students outlining this innovative Makerspace Ecosystem.

Professor of mathematics in IUP’s Mathematical and Computer Science Department, Dr. Rick Adkins opened the event at with remarks following from IUP President Michael Driscoll; State Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana; Deputy Secretary of Technology and Entrepreneurship at the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Jennifer Gilburg; IUP studio art faculty Sean Derry and Sharon Massey from IUP STEAMSHOP; and Michael Rottman, director of MADE in Johnstown, who closed the formal program. Senator Pittman said, “I applaud IUP and the three county partner organizations in their collaborative efforts in the creation of this entrepreneurial makerspace. I encourage our education, business and community partners to utilize this space here at Northpointe in Armstrong County, the IUP STEAMSHOP in Indiana County and the MADE space in Cambria County.” IUP president Michael Driscoll said, “Thank you to all of you who have dedicated your time, energy, and resources to be here. Your presence reflects your commitment to innovation and partnership, values that lie at the core of what we’re talking about this morning.

Partnership. It’s a word we often hear, but its significance cannot be overstated. In today’s rapidly changing world, collaboration is not just desirable; it’s essential. By coming together from different backgrounds, industries, and expertise, we have the power to create something truly remarkable. This Makerspace project is a testament to the strength of these collective efforts.

A makerspace embodies innovation, the pursuit of new ideas, solutions, and possibilities. It’s a space where creativity knows no bounds and where problems are seen as opportunities. But innovation isn’t just about the latest technology or gadgets; it’s about daring to think differently, challenge the status quo, and push the boundaries of what’s possible.

This is important because our future – the future of higher education, our workforce, and indeed, our society – depends on it. The world is changing at an unprecedented pace, driven by technological advancements and global connectivity. To thrive, we must equip our students and our communities with the skills, knowledge, and mindset to not only adapt––but to lead.

And that’s where the connection between this makerspace project and the future becomes clear. This project is not just about building a physical space; it’s about building bridges – between academia and industry, between today and tomorrow. It’s about preparing our students for the jobs of the future – jobs that may not even exist yet – by empowering them with hands-on experience, critical thinking skills, and a passion for lifelong learning.

The Makerspace has the potential to become a hub of creativity and entrepreneurship, with a social impact.

Together, we have the power to shape the future, as long as we work together, and that’s why this makerspace is a great project, and I’m proud that IUP plays a key role in it.    

Following remarks, IUP personnel offered tours of the makerspaces and demonstrations of the makerspaces. The day’s events concluded with discussion and opportunities for questions with Dr. Creely.

On May 5, 2023, the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute announced funding of $1.5 million through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant allocated for an entrepreneurial makerspace ecosystem including IUP STEAMSHOP (Indiana County), an IUP-led digital electronics satellite site in Armstrong County (at IUP Northpointe) and MADE in Johnstown in Cambria County.

The funding is provided by the ARM Institute as part of the Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative $62.7 million federal BBBRC grant awarded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (U.S. EDA) in September 2022. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, the ARM Institute is the nation’s leading robotics and AI Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

The BBRC grant award includes the 11-county region of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland.

This additional funding builds upon the nearly $1 million IUP received in September 2022 through the BBBRC grant to support four initiatives at IUP, including the IUP STEAMSHOP. Additional IUP initiatives funded by that $1 million grant include Data Analytics/Computer Science AI platforms and resources; Safety Sciences AI and Robotic Research; and Geological-Geospatial Intelligence initiatives.

The $1.5 million funding was intended to strengthen and advance the existing makerspaces at IUP and in Armstrong and Cambria counties through a “hub and spoke” model, designed to build enhanced collaboration and coordination between the three programs as well as with the other regional makerspaces across the 11-county region.  This new partnership with the ARM Institute also provides opportunities to learn and share innovations and best practices in robotics, AI, and advanced manufacturing.

IUP’s STEAMSHOP makerspace is a university-wide collaboration, with a goal of engaging diverse populations, improving digital literacy, and creating an integrated training and research program in design thinking, prototyping, digital fabrication, robotics, and AI (artificial intelligence) to capitalize on IUP’s current strengths and develop key partnerships across campus and the region.

Dr. Adkins, is the principal investigator for the project.

“The three locations provide a collaborative approach bringing valuable skills, training, and equipment to residents of the three counties,” Dr. Hillary Creely, Dean of the IUP School of Graduate Studies said. “Because each county has its own extended service area, this amplifies the impact and reach of this initiative and connects us all to other BBBRC assets.

Dr. Creely explained that this initiative includes use of technology to centrally coordinate educational training in entrepreneurial and business skills across all three counties and connect to the larger BBBRC hub and entrepreneurial makerspace spokes across western Pennsylvania.

IUP’s STEAMSHOP includes a makerspace focusing on student and new user training, design thinking and teamwork, prototyping, and improving diversity in the maker community. It also leverages the IUP Eberly College of Business and the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center at IUP to provide resources for entrepreneurs.

At IUP, the new grant funds will be used to expand community access to the makerspace and its programs, augment equipment, tools, and services to support more simultaneous users and larger workshops and install new resources in robotics and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling.

It will also provide funding for dedicated staff for IUP’s facility and new programming, including a lecture series with visiting scholars from multicultural backgrounds; workshops on robotics for college students; summer camps for secondary students; and train-the-trainer sessions for teachers and industry professionals.

“The expansion of our services to include physical computing with digital sensors in the new Armstrong County IUP STEAMSHOP site and our partnership with the MADE makerspace in Johnstown provides new opportunities to collaborate and connect with residents and students across all three counties,” Dr. Adkins said.

IUP has a longstanding commitment to research on all levels and in all disciplines. In 2021, IUP was named as one of only two public universities in Pennsylvania and one of only 93 public universities in the United States with the “High Research Activity” designation by the American Council on Education. IUP has strong expertise and programs in STEAM and connecting data analytics and applied research in worker safety, robotics, and in geospatial data.