Hi, I'm Dr. Michael Wienen. My formal education culminated in a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University in 1999. My dissertation research was fairly different from my peers. It focused on the general philosophy behind producing good designs. Specifically, what qualities do successful designers share in common. The investigation was as much Educational Psychology as it was Mechanical Engineering. My interest in curricula development and the so-called "Engineering, Science, and Technology educational pipeline" began in 1996. At that time I was pursing a master's degree, working in the area of automation. (My thesis involved the automation of laboratory processes associated with DNA processing...which was a fun foray into life sciences.) I was invited to mentor a team participating in the BEST Robotics competition. That introduction spawned a love for impacting the next generation through mentoring.
As a formal educator from 1997-2002, I worked to improve curricula for pre-collegiate students as well as college engineering students including topics such as Introduction to Engineering, Conservation Principles, Statics, Basic Electricity, Industrial Electricity, and Industrial Automation. Though I taught hundreds of students in various classes, the lack of personal impact in these formal settings was dissatisfying. Moreover most of the students had already entered the engineering educational pipeline. Simply delivering technical information to them seemed insignificant.
However, personal investments in STEM youth programming offered real promise. After that first year mentoring a robotics team, I systematically escalated my investments until making it a full time commitment in 2002. I still serve as president of Brazos Robotics (a non-profit group that has impacted thousands of students through it's robotics competition mentoring programs). Still, there seemed to be significant room for improvement.
The impact made in typical robotics programs is limited to the competition season, students who self-select into STEM, largely excludes under-represented populations, and does not fully capitalize on the potential of healthy mentoring relationships.
So, in 2015 we created Mentors & Makers. It is a place for generations to share experiences. People use the space and equipment for a wide range of personal reasons working in a broad range of "making" disciplines. The projects facilitated here teach a lot of new skills to a lot of people. Building things together is not really the point. The projects here are most-importantly excuses to spend time together. Building relationships is the real goal.