New Opportunities in Nebraska

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New Opportunities in Nebraska

Nebraska Extension working to create makerspaces across the state

Interview with Brad Barker Riley Nichols

A makerspace, like a community, is about people. It’s about leaders who teach and lead and mentor; it’s about building community capacity. 

Sidney, Nebraska is a community undergoing changes. It had been the home office of outdoor outfitter Cabela’s, which was sold in 2017 to Bass Pro Shops. Uncertainty about Sidney’s economic future led Sidney and the town’s library to partner with Nebraska Extension to build a makerspace. The goal was to help Sidney residents gain new skills and strengthen community ties. 

“There, people can make, create and innovate and really ‘bootstrap’ that community and help them out. In a community like Sidney, that’s really important,” according to Brad Barker, Nebraska Extension science and technology specialist and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) youth engagement coordinator for the Center for Science, Math and Computer Education at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. 

A makerspace is a designated area where people with shared interests can work on projects. The makerspace idea started with robotics and moved to wearable technologies, such as wearable health monitors, and clothing and accessories that change color. Now, though, the makerspace network could potentially help communities establish makerspaces where individuals can learn new skills, build entrepreneurship opportunities – and fill the educational pipeline with young people interested in STEM. 


Barker’s goal is to create opportunities with each makerspace. The youth-centered goal is to get middle school and high school students interested in STEM careers early to fill the need for people in STEM careers. By providing a space where learning is more free-choice, he hopes students will have increased interest in STEM disciplines. 

Makerspaces also will provide an opportunity for entrepreneurship. Barker’s hope is to help community members learn to create items they can sell and turn into a business. 

Barker and Nebraska Extension hope to bring together all ages of individuals in communities through makerspaces. The Sidney makerspace has already shown a number of retirees attending. 

“They’re learning new things, they’re excited, and they’re sharing knowledge with others,” Barker said. Makerspaces create opportunities for learning as well as mentorship. Barker hopes older patrons can learn skills and go on to teach and help younger audiences. For example, some of the older residents are teaching skills in woodworking, Barker said.


The Sidney makerspace officially opened in December of 2017, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF grant funded the initial equipment for the makerspace, and the community of Sidney also helped to supply space in the local public library. Barker believes that with community interest and investment, makerspaces have a better chance of succeeding.

“Sidney is not unlike other Nebraska communities that need collaborations in order to grow,” Barker said. 

Collaborations, innovations

In creating the Sidney makerspace, the Sidney Public Library collaborated with Nebraska Innovation Studio (NIS), located on Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln, Nebraska. With the use of telepresence robotics, Barker and his team were able to bridge the gap between the two locations. For example, an engineer on location at NIS can beam into a mobile robot in Sidney to provide presence in the space, but also observe and instruct. This allows experts at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and other campuses to share their knowledge across the state. 

Nebraska Extension also partnered with Know Innovations in Buffalo, New York in creating a virtual reality environment. According to Barker, virtual reality is an artificial environment created by sensory stimulators. The Sidney makerspace is using the Oculus Rift, a piece of technology that is worn over the eyes to immerse the user in the creative environment. Barker plans to create a virtual makerspace where patrons can create virtual items and then bring them into the world, using machines like 3D printers. This virtual makerspace can be accessed at the Sidney makerspace and is available to everyone who uses the space. 

Makerspace equipment, costs

The initial equipment in the Sidney makerspace includes a laser cutter, a Carvey CNC router, several 3D printers, computers, cameras and a vinyl cutter. An hourlong training/certification session is required to use each of the machines. Basic safety and operation of machines will be provided by the makerspace specialists, Barker said. 

After completing the training, community members are welcome to use the makerspace. Membership rates for the Sidney makerspace are $25 per month for adults, and free for children under 18. There is also a suggested $5 charge for drop-in patrons. 

Maker showcase

Barker also introduced the idea of “maker showcase” to the Sidney makerspace. A maker showcase is a fair-type event that allows community members to showcase, and possibly sell the products made at the makerspace. Along with generating income for the community, it also gives patrons new opportunities and purpose. 

Bubble wands, magic mirrors

The Sidney makerspace already has begun working with Sidney Public Schools. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade piloted the virtual reality feature as they toured the facility. The students also created a “bubble wand,” which is a wand that holds a soap solution and creates a bubble. The bubble wand is created in virtual reality and then printed on a 3D printer. This creates an open-learning environment where kids are more free to choose their learning path, as well as become interested in STEM. 

In addition to the bubble wands, NIS is working with the Sidney makerspace to build a magic mirror, which is a two-way mirror with a screen behind it that projects information, such as weather and calendars. Both teams at NIS and the Sidney makerspace hold meetings to discuss project progress. The building process will be documented and sent out to the public so other makerspaces can replicate the project. 


When Barker was researching the idea to establish a statewide network of makerspaces, he went on a six-month sabbatical to research and learn from other makerspaces across the world. He traveled to Barcelona, Spain, to visit two makerspaces, one in the heart of the city and the other in the mountains overlooking the city. Barker then went to Germany, Romania, Ireland, England and Scotland. He also visited makerspaces in the U.S. on the East Coast, West Coast, and the Midwest. 

If you are interested in learning more about the makerspace project, contact Brad Barker at