THE ORGANIZATION: On grounds of the Wausau Downtown Airport stand two meticulously maintained hangars that are home to Learn Build Fly (LBF). Since 2014, LBF’s dedicated volunteers have provided education and hands-on training in STEM, aviation, and leadership. LBF’s mission is to “build a stronger community by helping people of all ages recognize their potential.” This mission is lived by “leveraging aviation, STEM, skilled trades, and leadership education along with community partnerships.”
Currently, about 60 people attend weekly “Build Night” programs where participants learn computer-aided design, 3D printing, laser operation, welding, machining, small engines, aviation, wood working, and electronics. LBF’s core audience is youth, especially girls and women, and participants come from many of the county’s traditional and nontraditional school settings. LBF uses a “train the trainers model” where Youth Board members who have learned skills from adult and youth mentors help teach new attendees. Many youth participants are now pursuing careers in engineering or aviation and have been mentored by employees from companies like Greenheck and CTech. LBF’s programming is free and open to the public.
THE PROJECT & NEED: A long-term goal of LBF is to develop and retain young employees in Marathon County to meet the increasing demand in the manufacturing sector. The Fab Lab Expansion involves purchasing a 3D FabLight, a fiber laser cutter that precisely cuts metal for engineering and aviation projects; it is uniquely able to cut hollow metal tubes which is essential for building aircraft. This tool will allow LBF to fully construct an airplane on-site. Initially, LBF adult members will continue their model of “train the trainers” and then expand the use of the 3D FabLight as they incorporate it into their established curriculum. It will be used weekly at Build Nights. The device has an expected lifetime of 20 years and is believed to be the only tool of its kind available to K-12 students in Marathon County.
USE OF IMPACT100 FUNDS: The 3D FabLight costs $129,400. Funds beyond the Impact Grant are expected to come from local manufacturing partners that may benefit from having a 3D FabLight available. The only additional costs are already-funded consumable supplies that are used for existing fabrication systems. Impact100 funds would likely be paid in a single installment in 2023.
FUTURE EXPECTATIONS: Demonstrated ability to operate the 3D FabLight (and others tools) will increase participants’ ability to gain admission to and complete post-secondary programs. To this end, LBF will:
- Offer at least two-three 3D FabLight courses and complete one fuselage-related project in 2024
- Offer two-three 3D FabLight courses annually thereafter
- Motivate more students toward STEM participation, manufacturing and trades-related careers
FROM THE GRANT COMMITTEE: Learn Build Fly’s dedicated mentors and youth leaders offer cutting-edge, hands-on education in STEM skills and careers. LBF’s programs – weekly aircraft building projects, aviation ground school, engineering and skilled trades courses – will engage anyone with passion for learning. An Impact Grant will help cultivate and retain Marathon County’s future STEM leaders!