Newport Life Magazine’s 2018 Top 10 Groundbreakers
Steve Heath | Professional
A chance encounter with a friend’s college art portfolio sparked Steve Heath’s interest in creating things. “Up until then, the last art class I took was in the sixth grade,” Heath says. “But I loved to write and loved to be confronted with new ideas, so I had it in me. I was intrigued with the concept of ‘making.’” That ignition smoldered as he navigated his way through teaching, technology and nonprofit careers until it blazed red hot in 2015 when he opened FabNewport, a community makerspace and STEAM learning studio at the Florence Gray Center in Newport. One of 150 worldwide, this “fab lab” is a community workshop that houses powerful technology and materials to make nearly anything you can dream up. “Ever since I entered the world of children and schools, I realized that the learning environment needed to change,” says the executive director. “Kids learn better by doing. When you start making something, you begin a little journey that is full of surprises and it starts the internal tumblers of curiosity turning. It helps you understand yourself, how you learn and connect to the world.”
With everything from 3D printers, sewing machines and a computer lab to a laser cutter, wood workshop, painting studio and more, FabNewport’s amazing team makes hands-on STEAM learning available to under-served families, MET School students and the community with workshops, internships and open studio nights. By “liberating the maker intrinsic in all of us,” Heath not only instructs but also raises funds to help continue and grow the program. He explains that one of Fab’s missions is to create learning opportunities while integrating different ages, learning styles and interests. Recently the organization began a professional development program to instruct teachers how to integrate making and innovation into the classroom. “From age five on we expect kids to sit still and learn on paper, and many kids lose interest,” Heath explains, confessing that as a child he struggled in school. “Once they have a chance to tinker, discover and solve problems in a real world situation, they gain confidence and skills.”
This year, FabNewport successfully secured a more than $400,000 grant to join Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza in launching PVD Young Makers program, which will open makerspaces in 10 public libraries across Providence. Heath explains that libraries are the perfect place to start creating these mini-fab labs as they already serve as a community gathering place. While this is a year-long offering for Providence, Heath hopes to find funding to continue it and add it in other areas of the state.
In addition, Heath’s team is developing a program called “Make Your Life” to encourage participants to delve into the world of making and, in turn, be inspired to create the life they want. “We want to inspire initiative in students and grow a community of adults who welcome kids’ actively learning and continuing big-picture thinking,” he muses. “We teach teachers how to make learning more inviting by integrating things like coding, 3D printing and vinyl cutting. In the end, we’re all about the kids.”