Malheur County students tinker their way to business success

ONTARIO, Ore. – When she picked up the RV in Corvallis, Barbara Brody didn’t mind navigating the 32-foot vehicle through the Cascade Mountains to deliver it to Nyssa, Ore. She knew the converted 4-H Mobile Maker Studio would make a difference in students’ lives.

The Maker Studio, used by the Oregon State University Extension Service 4-H program, provided the equipment and hands-on lessons that allowed teenagers at Nyssa High School to learn the skills needed to start their own business – and actually do it.

“Many rural schools do not have the resources to provide a makerspace,” said Brody, OSU Extension 4-H faculty and co-coordinator of the program. “The 4-H Mobile RV Makerspace provides an opportunity for youth to engage in activities that are aligned with an entrepreneurship curriculum. Through this opportunity youth improve their 21st century skills and build their cognitive abilities while fostering independence and mastery.”

Before the 4-H students got started, 18 OSU faculty and volunteers were trained by the College of Business, which provided the RV, equipment and knowledge for the program. Once trained, the faculty and volunteers brought in the kids, who were tasked with developing a business plan, making the item to sell and then taking it to market.

The kids had plenty to work with. The RV came equipped with T-shirts; an apparel printer that uses a laser transfer and heat press system; 3-D printers; a laser cutter and variety of hand tools.

One team came up with a logo that had a map of Oregon and a star by Nyssa with the words “Where in the world is Nyssa?” They printed it on a T-shirt and sold it – very successfully, Brody said. Another team produced luggage tags, and another sold their “coolie cups,” similar to a can cooler, at a community event.

“They learned, designed, collaborated and made decisions,” Brody said. “It was a full circle: learning, creating and selling.”

Twenty-nine students at Nyssa High, the first stop for the RV, went through the program, with another 23 enrolled for this school year. Teacher Anna Long used the Makers Studio curriculum for her business and entrepreneurship class, as well as the Future Business Leaders of America club.

“Nyssa is a rural area with a high poverty rate and limited access to resources and opportunities for the students,” Long said. “This type of training and resources are greatly lacking in rural areas and as a teacher I appreciate the opportunity to partner with OSU and bring programs to Nyssa High School that have a life-long impact on student success.”

One of her students told Brody that he plans to pursue a degree in business at OSU.

“He said he had learned basic business practices and was proud he made a marketable product in the Makers Studio,” she said. “He valued it because opportunities like this aren’t available in small towns.”

Students also have the opportunity to attend a summer Makers Day Camp.

The mobile studio is designed to build youth proficiencies in digital literacy, interpersonal skills and business acumen through a high-touch STEAM program, said Maureen Hosty, co-coordinator and OSU 4-H faculty. The hope is that students will attend college and go into business. But even if students don’t go into business, they see the value of higher education.

“Older generations may remember the days of the mobile libraries that would bring the library to communities without libraries,” Hosty said. “Our 4-H Mobile Maker Studio is doing the same thing but with cutting edge technology, curriculum and equipment to provide youth with the tools they need to produce products for their youth businesses. Perhaps even more important, the 4-H Maker Studio is encouraging and supporting rural youth families to contribute to the economic revitalization of their respective communities.” 

A second mobile studio, Thinker Tinker Trailer, was recently donated to 4-H by the College of Business to serve counties in western Oregon.

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