Tomball Innovation Lab: Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead

Lone Star College-Tomball and Harris County Public Library recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of their partnership by unveiling LSC-Tomball Community Library’s new Innovation Lab.

The Innovation Lab, which opened on Jan. 28, 2020, features 3D printers, laser and vinyl cutters, robotics, virtual reality technology, and more at no cost to visitors. Although the lab is brand new, the level of excitement and interest from the community indicates it is already an achievement.

With support from LSC-Tomball, Harris County Precinct 4, Tomball Chamber of Commerce, Tomball Independent School District, Tomball Economic Development, the City of Tomball, HCA-Houston Healthcare Tomball, and others, the lab will provide a much-needed resource through activities using principles of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.

LSC-Tomball President Lee Ann Nutt immediately recognized the value of developing the Innovation Lab.

“Community is one of the four key values of the college, so we’re always looking for ways that we can add value. This lab is a great way to fill a need for the community,” she said. “For most people, having a 3D laser printer in their house is probably not very likely, but they can use it at the college for free. It’s just such a great service and resource to be able to provide to the community.”

The Harris County Public Library system currently offers three Maker Labs and eight Maker Spaces, hands-on technology labs with equipment ranging from 3D printers and robotics to sewing machines and laser cutters.

“Developing Maker Spaces is one of the library system’s strategic objectives for the next couple of years,” LSC-Tomball Community Library Director Janna Hoglund said.

“There are some Maker Spaces in our area, and they’re some really good ones, but they’re only open to the members of the organization or the students, or you pay for them. That’s our future here, and we want to make sure people have access to it so that they can be prepared better for the work force, for entertainment, or to better their lifestyle or professional career. If there are small businesses that need to develop a prototype or work on a proposal, they can come here. It’s important to keep it free, so everybody in the community can come and enjoy it.”

Reflective and Directive

The lab relies heavily on feedback from users to determine what equipment is needed most. Hoglund said they took into consideration dozens of comment cards and suggestions from library patrons when selecting the equipment for the lab.

Genova Boyd, the library system’s former head of adult services, said: “The idea is that you’re reflective of community needs, but also directing community needs. You want to serve your community and provide equipment that the community wants, but you also want to make the community aware of new innovations.”

One of the requested items from patrons was sewing machines.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to sew,” Loyd Huhn, LSC-Tomball’s technology specialist, said. “But with the equipment here, we can offer those skills to those who want to learn. It brings a life skill to the people here.”

Hoglund added: “I don’t have skills to teach people sewing classes, but we have partners in the community who have the skills and expertise. We can bring our partners to offer classes or workshops. Participants can use their own equipment or use ours.”

Unlimited Potential

“We don’t want to limit ourselves to what we have inside these (library) walls,” Hoglund said. “We want to reach out to our community members and partner with them so we can provide more advanced experiences. I think this idea is so amazing and powerful. The sky’s the limit, as long as you have partners.”

The Innovation Lab initially opened with money from HCPL and donations. Hoglund hopes that, as word spreads about the lab, more organizations and agencies will become interested and sponsor equipment or programs.

Nutt said the college and library are already in preliminary discussions to expand the Innovation Lab into unused kitchen space on the first floor of the library for food entrepreneurs who may need space to develop their brand or product.

“The experience we are always trying to create for our students, our employees, and the community is that the college is a partner in the community,” Nutt said. “We’re really excited that this has come to fruition. I love the partnership with the library. It is a piece that feels very seamless and connected.”

Bring your projects and start creating! Visit https://www.hcpl.net/branch/lone-star-college-tomball-community-library for Innovation Lab hours and classes.