Category Archives: NOVA Fab Lab

Student Spotlight: Women in STEM President at NOVA

“The NOVA Women in STEM club has introduced me to a diverse group of people from all six campuses, many of whom travel to Annandale for our weekly meetings. Collaborating with other clubs enhances the fun, and I’ve learned from everyone I’ve met here. I’m grateful for the unique and enriching Nighthawk experience.” ~ Judy Marouf


Last spring, Judy Marouf co-founded the NOVA Women in STEM Club. The club seeks to “present women that pursue STEM studies with the opportunities to depart from a transitory academic environment with the tools for success in their future endeavors.”

54% of NOVA is female, but only 17% of the engineering program is female and 21% of the Computer Science program is female. In this regard, the club seeks to be “a small force of change” in order to increase female engagement in STEM fields at the college.

The goals of Women in STEM are:

  1. To create a safe space that offers a well-rounded support system full of uplifting connections and friendships.
  2. To provide members with the latest opportunities and information for academic and career development – including jobs, internships, scholarships, research, and transfer support.
  3. To organize exciting and enriching events, workshops, guest speakers, activities, trips, and games.

Judy serves as the club president, with her duties divided between internal and external responsibilities. Internally, Judy closely manages the board’s schedules and key tasks. She keeps the vice president and secretary updated, approves documents, helps the treasurer with fundraising, guides the membership chair in promotions, and sets goals with the social media manager. She also mentors the president intern for future leadership roles. Externally, she works with other student clubs and handles tasks like organizing events and ensuring the club meets all regulations.

Physics professor Manori Nadesalingam serves as the club advisor. Meetings take place at the Annandale Campus on Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. The club has grown to almost 250 students on Discord and offers peer support, career resources, and organizes various events. Judy encourages all NOVA STEM students, regardless of gender, to participate in club events and join the Discord community to engage with and benefit from this diverse and active group. Join using this link: https://discord.gg/fqRFxE3qzf.

Judy will graduate this spring with an associate degree in business administration and plans to complete an associate degree in computer science this summer. She is considering a future career in project management.

Recently, Judy completed her first internship during the winter break with a program called Nvolve, designed to support women in overcoming barriers in STEM fields. As a web development intern, she significantly enhanced their website and trained other interns, gaining valuable experience.

Judy is also active in the FAB Lab Product Design Incubator, where she is paired with a mentor to enhance various skills, including resume building and technical development. Last semester, she developed an AI chatbot, a project supported by the Women’s STEM Club, which showcases program benefits like stipends and skill development. This experience has enriched her resume and provided key talking points for job interviews.

Additionally, she is a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which helps exceptional community college students transfer to top four-year institutions without incurring student debt. The winner will be announced in May.

As for her interest in STEM? “I was inspired by my oldest brother’s love for coding and robotics,” she says. “I’ve always looked up to him as a role model. In elementary school, I noticed I wasn’t naturally gifted in math, but I enjoyed the subject enough to challenge myself. I had to work twice as hard, but that didn’t stop me.” Clearly, her efforts have paid off!

Spotlight on NOVA Makers: Andy Polcha

Andy Polcha, a NOVA student with aspirations to become an architect, finds the Fab Lab a canvas for his Art History and Architectural Drafting class projects and an integral part of his educational journey.

 Utilizing the Fab Lab’s advanced F series printer, Polcha has been able to create intricate 3D plastic models. One notable project is a reliquary (which traditionally houses sacred relics) for his Art History class, crafted from an entire spool of plastic and refined with a sodium hydroxide solution to achieve a polished finish. Polcha’s reliquary cleverly splits in half to reveal a hidden compartment which holds a gem owl, a cherished gift from his aunt.

In addition, he has crafted a variety of models, including a gazebo, columns, arches, and doors. For his final project in Architectural Drafting, he designed a house in classical style.

Drawing inspiration from the legacy of Italian Renaissance architects such as Michelangelo, Bernini, and Palladio, he references Architectural Treatises to refine his designs. To bring his ideas to life, he navigates Blender, a free software he compares to playing a piano – where each key performs a distinct function and mastering them all is essential. “Blender is notorious for being difficult because it encompasses everythingーthe renderer, animation tools for crafting full 3D animated movies, compositing, texture work, and much more,” he explained.

He has also utilized the Fab Lab’s resources to print professional-quality photos for set designs, drawing inspiration from the works of Italian Renaissance architect Vignola. These photos were then used in a local community theater production, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.

Currently pursuing an associate degree in General Education with aspirations for a bachelor’s degree in architecture, Polcha has always been passionate about building, a hobby that began in childhood with Lincoln Logs, Legos, and blocks. Despite early struggles with math that cast doubt on his potential as an architect, recent years have seen a significant boost in his confidence, largely due to his enthusiasm for Art History and Architectural Drafting courses.

After graduating from NOVA, Polcha aims to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Architecture at Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Reflecting on his experience at NOVA, Polcha said, “I love it because everything you need is here. The math center has been very helpful. They have a counseling center. If you want to do well, you almost have no choice but to do well. You will be successful in some way.”

The Fab Lab is a world-class makerspace open to all NOVA students, faculty, staff, and the wider educational community. Its mission is to cultivate a comprehensive experience in the Digital Fabrication realm by providing access to cutting-edge fabrication processes, training in 3D modeling, and fostering a foundation in the principles of Design Thinking and creative problem-solving.

“Everybody at the Fab Lab is nice and personable. I enjoy being there because whenever you seek help, they’re always willing to collaborate and figure things out together,” he shared.

Spotlight on a NOVA Design Challenge Award Winner

Tariq Aldalou, winner in the post-secondary division, brought in some middle eastern enrichment with his design.

Tariq triumphed in the Design Challenge by creating a unique musical instrument inspired by his origins in Damascus, Syria. He designed a Mini-Oud, a variant of the Arabic Oud, that resembles a lute.

Aldalou’s version, crafted from PLA (polylactic acid filament) using a 3D printer, measures 60cm by 30cm (an Oud traditionally measures 67cm by 36cm). It features lasercut wood hexagon sound holes and maintains the conventional 11 strings of a traditional Oud. To preserve its authenticity, he applied a matte finish and included dust remnants from the sanding process, also creating two smaller prototypes.

Encouraging participation, Tariq advises, “Join the challenge, even if you’re starting from scratch or your tools aren’t perfect. It’s all about learning and growing. My friends and I, despite time constraints, are eager to dive in, ready to embrace mistakes as part of our progress. We encourage everyone to get involved and explore, even with the simplest of ideas.”

Tariq initially got involved when he sought guidance for an engineering project from his physics professor, Francesca Viale. She recommended utilizing the resources at the Fab Lab.

After completing the NOVA Makers course on Canvas, Aldalou took an in-person class led by Kai Le, an evening support specialist. He also received aid from Mihai Ziu, a dual-enrolled high school student, in mastering the Tinkercard program and Autodesk Fusion 360 software.

Additionally, he took an online Zoom course taught by Ziu to become proficient in the Prusa slicer. Currently, he dedicates two evenings a week, from 5 pm to 9 pm, to his lab projects.

Aldalou shared, “I’m involved in various projects, including circuit design and signal transmission. I tend to procrastinate, but the deadline for the design challenge kept me focused.”

With the design challenge behind him, Aldalou is now focusing on a remote-controlled plane project, echoing his childhood passion for making and selling toy planes in Syria. In those days, he applied simple mathematics and basic materials like glue sticks, A4 paper, pens, scissors, and paper clips to bring his creations to life.

Pursuing degrees in engineering and math, Aldalou’s initial career aspirations leaned towards piloting. However, frequent relocations and a desire for family time shifted his focus to computer engineering, fueled by his love for math and experience in building computers in Lebanon.

He credits his NOVA success to professors like Viale and Chinthaka Hettitantri, his calculus instructor, and appreciates the ongoing support from his high school counselor, Michael Todd, and the Fab Lab team, especially Kai Le.

Aldalou aims to graduate from NOVA this year with associate degrees in engineering and math, planning to transfer to George Mason University for a bachelor’s degree in computer science. His ultimate goal is a PhD in mathematics, aspiring to make significant contributions to quantum computing.

 

Design Challenge Winners Awarded

In early February, winning students for NOVA’s 5th bi-annual Design Challenge were honored at an award ceremony at the Fab Lab. The challenge this time was for middle school, high school, and post-secondary students to design and fabricate a unique musical instrument.

Mary Ratcliff, Fab Lab coordinator and organizer of this year’s challenge, said, “I didn’t realize I had put together the toughest challenge yet. Not only did I ask students to create a one-of-a-kind unique product, but I also required that it produce repeatable, predictable sounds.”

There were awards for participants at each school level, with NOVA students Ethan Cortes and Tariq Aldalou taking home the grand champion and post-secondary division titles, respectively.

Ethan Cortes from NOVA was named the Grand Champion with his innovative creation, the “Tri-Blown.” With a deep passion for brass instruments, Ethan designed an instrument that covers the full spectrum of brass sounds. Made from 3D printed PLA and tubing, the “Tri-Blown” can switch between three tubes and adjustable mouthpieces, emulating the deep resonance of a tuba, the rich tones of a trombone, and the bright notes of a trumpet—all in one instrument.

Cortes enthusiastically recommends the Design Challenge, noting his efforts to encourage participation among his STEM friends, despite their time constraints. He found the experience both enjoyable and educational, enhancing his skills in 3D printing and Autodesk Inventor design. “Winning aside, the experience has been incredibly valuable for my education and future. I’m grateful for being named the grand champion and look forward to involving my friends in the next event,” he said.

Tariq Aldalou, representing NOVA, clinched the Design Challenge title in the Post-Secondary Division with his innovative Mini Oud, made from 3D printed PLA and laser-cut wood. Tariq’s creation raises the bar for future competitions. Encouraging participation, Tariq advises, “Join the challenge, even if you’re starting from scratch or your tools aren’t perfect. It’s all about learning and growing. My friends and I, despite time constraints, are eager to dive in, ready to embrace mistakes as part of our progress. We encourage everyone to get involved and explore, even with the simplest of ideas.”

Sawyer Degregori and Trevor MacDuffee from Woodgrove High School were crowned the High School Division Champions for their creation, the “Double Quena.” Made from PVC, their design offers a contemporary twist on one of the oldest known instruments, the whistle, resulting in a flute-like instrument that has gained popularity within their school. Trevor shared, “All of the band students have really enjoyed playing it.”

Max Choe, representing Kilmer Middle School, was named the Middle School Division Champion for his creation, the “Air Keys.” Crafted from 3D printed PLA and integrated with microelectronics, this innovative instrument features small caps for the fingers. By flexing the fingers within these caps, users can produce sounds reminiscent of piano keys. The “Air Keys” stand out for their creative design, merging technology and traditional musical elements in a novel way.

The panel of judges for the challenge included Ilya Tëmkin, a professor at NOVA; Justin Owen, the NOVA IET CTE Coordinator; Chris Russell, Project Manager for the Information and Technologies division at NOVA; and David Tuohey, a Senior Process Engineer at BAE Systems in Manassas. BAE Systems has generously supported the design challenges through financial sponsorship since 2022.

Opened in January 2020, the Fab Lab stands as a premier makerspace welcoming students, faculty, staff from NOVA, and the broader educational community. It is dedicated to enhancing knowledge of digital fabrication by providing access to advanced fabrication techniques and 3D modeling training. The Fab Lab focuses on Design Thinking and problem-solving to foster innovation skills, launching a design challenge in Spring 2021 to encourage creative solutions to a specific issue.

The Next Challenge

Looking ahead to the next event, Physics Professor Elena Ziu and her son, Mihai, both avid NOVA Makers, will be lending their expertise to the upcoming spring design challenge. This challenge calls for participants to design a product to help improve the well-being of an animal.

Entries will be evaluated based on creativity, aesthetics, feasibility, and effectiveness. The competition is open to middle school, high school, homeschool, and post-secondary students, welcoming individual participants or teams of up to three.

The submission deadline is set for April 14. The Grand Champion will be awarded a Prusa MK4 3D Printer, while each Division Champion will receive a Prusa Mini+. For more details and to submit your entry, visit: https://www.nvcc.edu/academics/divisions/iet/fablab.html.

Fab Lab Jan 2024

Fab Lab Offerings


NOVA Makers

NOVA Makers is a membership program, which opens the NOVA Fab Lab to NOVA Students, Faculty and Staff to work on personal projects during our Open Labs.

How does it work?

  1. Enroll in the NOVA Makers Course on Canvas.
  2. On Canvas, pass the online Safety Orientation Certification and fill out the release form, which will make you an official member!
  3. Come-in during open lab hours to use machines and equipment. If it is your first time visiting or you need some help, ask a NOVA Fab Lab staff member for assistance.

Membership Fee

NOVA Makers is free for NOVA students, faculty, and staff.

NOVA Makers Open Lab Hours

Monday | 5pm – 9pm
Tuesday | 1pm – 5pm
Wednesday | 1pm – 5pm
Thursday | 5pm – 9pm
Friday | 9am – 12pm, 5pm – 9pm


Product Design Incubator:

Do you have a brilliant idea for a new product? The NOVA Fab Lab is hosting a Product Design Incubator for NOVA students to learn design thinking, develop entrepreneurial skills, and prototype and build a product at the NOVA Fab Lab.

PDI participants will:

  • Learn entrepreneurship skills during 6 spring workshops.
  • Design and protype a product during a summer product design incubator.
  • Pitch a product to regional entrepreneurs
  • Receive a $3000 stipend for completion

You can complete a apply PDI application at fablab.novastem.us/PDIapply

PDI is possible thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant.


 NOVA’s Junior Makers program creates a fun, social environment for our youngest generation of makers to be introduced to fabrication and to build confidence in their STEM and problem-solving skills!

We offer a wide range of topics and activities for 4th-8th grade students to create a unique project with their parent or guardian.

Spring 2024 sessions are now available on Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. For full details and registration, visit fablab.novastem.us/JrMaker

Activities:

February 10 – Casting Chocolate Legos (Vacuum Forming)

 February 24 – Soft Circuit Creatures (Circuitry & Hand Sewing) 

 March 9 – Build a Mini Greenhouse (Wood Working & Vacuum Forming)

March 23 – Animatronics Stuffed Animal (Coding & Microelectronics)

 April 6 – 3D Print a Monster (Clay Modeling & 3D Printing)

 April 20 – T-Shirt & Jewelry (UV Printing & Laser Cutting)

 May 4 – Build a Birdhouse – NEW! (Wood Working and Painting)

 May 18 – Stomp Rockets – NEW! (Design Thinking and Fabrication)

 June 1 – Laser Cut Airplanes – NEW! (Laser Cutting)

 June 15 – Sew a Custom Handbag – NEW! (Machine Sewing)

Spring Fab Lab Design Challenge Winners Awarded

Congratulations to the winners of the Spring ’23 NOVA Fab Lab Design Challenge!

The theme for this semester was Upcycling, where we challenged college, high school, and middle school students to use their innovative skills to design a product that reuses discarded objects or materials to create a product of usefulness and quality.

Grand prize winners Anirudh Holavanahalli, Rohan Matta, and Ajay Penugonda designed tires into a functional bookshelf, called “HigherTire”. They were awarded $1000 to split and their product was fabricated by the Fab Lab staff.

Anirudh Holavanahalli reflected “I like the concept of the design challenge and I’m also happy with the design that we as a team created. We reused old tires and added some wood and mechanics. I really like how the design looks, it’s hard to create. [The fabrication] looks exact and identical.

Fellow grand champion Rohan Matta added “I really like the design challenge because you don’t really see these types of upcycle designs, where it’s not just about how cool it looks. I never thought the final product would come out this good.”
Northern Virginia Community College students were well represented in the post-secondary division. Champion Makayla Draper participated in her second design challenge, also winning last Fall, and said she enjoyed “the theory aspect of this challenge.” Fellow NOVA compatriot Joe Le Sage also enjoyed the challenge, saying “it was fun to participate. I needed an excuse to design something and this was a good excuse.”

Mary Ratcliff, one of our Fab Lab Coordinators, started at NOVA in the fall and from week one was involved in conceptualizing the upcycling idea for the challenge and spearheading the logistics of communicating with participants and fabricating the product alongside Fab Lab Coordinator Richard Sewell and technician David Burn.

Ratcliff said “the Spring Design Challenge Awards Ceremony was a celebration of creativity, innovation, and resourcefulness. Winners from middle school, high school, and post-secondary divisions were honored for their imaginative, yet practical applications of upcycling. Wood pallets, CDs, and plastic bottles were just a few of the transformed materials incorporated into the winning designs. Congratulations to all Spring Design Challenge participants!”

One of the judges, John Hicks, owner of Fillagreen, loved the sustainability potential for upcycled products and reflected on his involvement:

“It was a great experience to see the creativity and thought leaders in today’s students. I look forward to seeing the great positive impact these participants will make on the world! Sustainability is within reach and is attainable through small steps.”

Thank you to our sponsors and community partners BAE Systems, Inc., Micron Technology, and Fillagreen as well as our judges John Hicks, David Tuohey, and Jim Crane.

We will be announcing our next Fab Lab Design Challenge in the Fall. For updates sign up for our monthly IET Newsletter at newsletter.novastem.us

#WeDoSTEM #DesignThinking #Upcycling

PDI Completes Inaugural Cohort with Pitch Event

On Friday, June16th students from the Fab Lab’s inaugural Product Design Incubator (PDI) presented their product pitches to an audience of faculty, staff, and industry guests.

PDI is a project designed to train groups of community college students through a product design challenge. The PDI curriculum integrates entrepreneurship training and design thinking to guide students from initial ideation through the prototyping and pitch processes. PDI increases contact between students and industry professionals, fosters interdisciplinary collaboration between NOVA students and staff, and increases the supply of IET workers with industry-required collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills.

At the pitch event, student groups met informally with guests during a networking event, then gave formal 10-minute pitches. Two product prototypes were presented: Student Rise, a student-led recruitment service for internships; and Novagation, a mobile indoor navigation app for college campuses.

Isaiah Harris, a PDI student who helmed Novigation, said “PDI is a great opportunity because it puts you in contact with so many people in the industry and it allows you to learn so many different skills from business to marketing to product design and creative thinking. Definitely recommended. It really allows you to work as a team and will help you figure out what your strengths are and also how to improve upon your weaknesses.”

Tina Dang, another PDI student added “I’ve been able to meet some amazing people in PDI. It has taught me how to communicate better and learn how to adapt in difficult situations and has also allowed my creativity to expand.”

As far as the advisors, Fab Lab Coordinator Richard Sewell praised what the students achieved: “I’m immensely proud of the work that students accomplished during their time at the Lab. They’ve all shown tremendous growth in their ability to collaborate, innovate, and design.”

In addition, NOVA associate professor of business and PDI advisor Cameisha Chin embarked that “each project presented was clear, compelling, and commercially viable. Students demonstrated both an entrepreneurial spirit and a shrewd business sense.”

For more on PDI in general, click here.

 

Fall Design Challenge Winners Awarded

 

The NOVA Fab Lab held an in-person awards ceremony on Friday, February 26th, to recognize the Fall 2022 Design Challenge winners. Winning students received their certificates and prizes, networked with judges and sponsors, and toured NOVA’s state-of-the-art Fab Lab after the event, where the challenge submissions were on display.

The Fab Lab holds the Design Challenge twice a year, so this ceremony was to honor students who participated in the Fall 2022 event. (The Spring 2023 challenge is soon to be announced). Of the two challenges each year, one is geared more towards design and the other is focused more on fabrication.

The Fall 2022 challenge was for middle school, high school, or college students to fabricate a replica of their favorite science fiction prop, which proved to be a popular topic. As scientists, artists, engineers, and inventors the Fab Lab staff believe the foundation of prop making, especially in science fiction requires a seamless blend of innovation, problem solving, creativity, and craft.

Students submitted their designs and design process online, then submissions were narrowed down to a final number of select projects. From there students fabricated their own props and brought them in to the Fab Lab, where winners were selected from a panel of industry judges.

There were 3 categories for award winners: College/University, High School, and Middle School. First place winners in each category received $250 plus a 3D-Printer and accessories. Second-place winners received $250, and third-place winners took home a $100 prize.

Middle School Winners:

1st Place: Max Choe, Kilmer Middle School.
Submission: “Drill to the Upside Down” from Stranger Things (3D-printed).

2nd Place: Christopher Jones, Robinson Secondary School.
Submission: Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber from Star Wars: A New Hope (3D-printed).

3rd Place: Henry Eckholdt, Saunders Middle School.
Submission: Imperial Star Destroyer from the original Star Wars trilogy (3D-printed).

High School Winners:

1st Place: Jason Armstrong, Home School.
Submission: The Flux Capacitor from Back to the Future (Fabricated from Wood, Acrylic, and PVC),

2nd Place: Mihai Ziu, Home School.
Submission: Iron Man Mark 42 Helmet from Iron Man 3 (3D-Printed).

3rd Place: Jack Register, Manassas Park High School.
Submission: Marty McFly’s Hoverboard from Back to the Future 2 (Mixed Media).

College Winners:

1st Place: Bruce Escalante, NOVA.
Submission: The Lament Configuration Box from Hellraiser (Fabricated from Wood).

2nd Place: Makayla Draper, NOVA
Submission: Luke and Yoda’s Dagobah Lamp from The Empire Strikes Back (3D-Printed, Acrylic).

3rd Place: Sunmeet Maheshwari, NOVA
Submission: Thor’s Hammer from Avengers: Endgame (3D-printed, Leather).

Honorable Mention:
Alek Merkt, Stone Bridge High School
Stuti Aryal, Woodbridge Senior High School
Rian Doyle, Washington-Liberty High School
Christopher Robinson, NOVA

NOVA student and College division winner Bruce Escalante said “It was a really fun challenge, it helped me learn about myself and my abilities. It definitely helped me to be more problem-solving.”

Fellow NOVA student and second-place college division winner Makayla Draper reflected that the Design Challenge “allows you to think out-of-the-box and use techniques that you are getting from school. It’s a really good learning experience.”

Sunmeet Maheshwarim, another NOVA Design Challenge award winner, added “It’s one of the amazing competitions which gives you experience on the engineering side and also creativity.”

Design Thinking and creative solutions to common challenges are a prominent feature in STEM education and the technology workforce, making the Design Challenge a touchstone for talented young minds to generate ideas in an equitable way.

The NOVA Fab Lab’s mission is to decrease the growing skills gap in the digital fabrication arena by providing students a more holistic fabrication experience, including access to the most advanced processes, training in 3D Modeling and design, and a foundation in the principles of design thinking and creative problem solving.

“One of the Fab Lab missions is to empower students to think and fabricate in unison and help them unlock their potential to recognize and solve complex problems” said Richard Sewell, NOVA’s Fab Lab Coordinator.

Sponsors for the Design Challenge were BAE Systems, Micron, and Lockheed Martin.

More information about the Spring 2023 Design Challenge will be available on the NOVA Fab Lab page by mid -March, as well as on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages. #WeDoSTEM #DesignThinking

Spring 2023 Fab Lab Design Challenge

The Brief

Upcycling is creative reuse; it is the process of taking something considered as “junk” and transforming it into something useful and often beautiful. Upcycling reveals how we can reuse everyday objects and think critically and creatively about the world around us. In the past, we have seen plastic bags woven into rugs, swings made with old tires, bike racks made from scrap bike parts, and furniture crafted from shipping pallets. How can the functional objects, structures, and spaces in your community be reimagined through upcycling or what useful, upcycled product can you provide your community?

The Challenge

 Design an upcycled product linked to your community.

Dates

Wednesday, March 15 – Design Submission Portal Opens
Sunday, April 30 – Design Submission Portal Closes
Tuesday, May 16 – Finalists will be Announced
June – Award Ceremony

Prizes

Grand Champion – $1,000 and we will fabricate a scale model of your design.
*Division Champions – $500
*Division Honorable Mentions – $250

*Divisions are: Middle School, High School, and Post-Secondary

Learn More about to the Spring 2023 Challenge at: https://www.nvcc.edu/systemic/fablab.html 

Submit an entry

Fab Lab Design Challenge

 

Congratulations to our NOVA Fab Lab Design Challenge Winners for Spring 2022!

The NOVA Fab Lab held an in-person awards ceremony on Thursday, June 16th to recognize the Spring 2022 Design Challenge winners. As the ceremony’s highlight, students were able to see their designs realized as the actual fabricated products were revealed to them for the first time, alongside family members and friends. Participants also received their prizes, networked with judges and sponsors, and toured NOVA’s state-of-the-art Fab Lab after the event. This year’s challenge was for middle school, high school, or college students to design or refine a product to improve any area of their school. Sponsors for the Design Challenge were BAE Systems, Micron, Amtek Company, Digital Realty, and Dewberry Engineering.

Design Thinking and creative solutions to common challenges are a prominent feature in STEM education and the technology workforce, making the Design Challenge a touchstone for talented young minds to generate ideas in an equitable way. The NOVA Fab Lab’s mission is to decrease the growing skills gap in the Digital Fabrication arena by providing students a more holistic fabrication experience, including access to the most advanced processes, training in 3D Modeling and design, and a foundation in the principles of Design Thinking and creative problem solving.

With a goal of broadening participation and meeting students where they are at, NOVA allowed student entries in any format, including hand-drawn submissions. This was done to re-focus the goal away from simply displaying digital proficiency and more toward ‘solving a problem’ in their community. “One of the Fab Lab missions is to empower students to think and fabricate in unison and help them unlock their potential to recognize and solve complex problems” said Richard Sewell, NOVA’s Fab Lab Coordinator.

Prior to the final submissions, the NOVA Fab Lab provided 16 free Dominating Our Design Challenge prep sessions in February and March. The first, entitled Using Design Thinking, provided a process for moving an idea to a functional solution. The second, Learning the Tools,helped participants learn the strengths and weaknesses for rapid prototyping on four common fabrication technologies: laser cutting, 3D Printing, CNC Routing, and plastic thermoforming. Dominating Our Design Challenge sessions were utilized by 141 participants in 4 locations: Prince William Public Libraries, Arlington Tech, SERVE Family Shelter, the NOVA Fab Lab, and virtually.

After the design submission deadline of April 17, the Fab Lab received 62 total entries, comprised of 123 participants. Once submitted, participants were judged based upon their digital or hand-drawn designs and written descriptions. The top three then had their winning designs fabricated by our Fab Lab team using a CNC router, woodshop equipment and hand tools as well as a Stratasys F370 3D printer and received their fabricated products at the ceremony.

The 1st place award was won by a two-person team consisting of Eli Reeder and Logan Pennington from The Nokesville School for their product titled, iDesk, which is a desk with an iPad screen and charger built-in. The iDesk solves the problem of having to charge laptops and is purposed so that teachers can send assignments directly to the desk tablet. Eli and Logan won the top prize of $500 plus an Ender-3 S1 3D printer, certificate plaques, and their fabricated product.

NOVA’s own Carmen Chica earned 2nd place with her All In Chair design, a desk with a wide backplate chair composed of two adjustable arms to create right-handed and left-handed usage, so all students feel included. Carmen was awarded $300, a 3D printer, a certificate plaque, and her fabricated product.

The 3rd place award went to Harris Lechtman, from George C. Marshall High School for his Study Buddy Organizer, which offers a solution to limited desk space through an attachment that holds a phone, a drink, pencil slots and other sections for desk items. Harris won $100 plus the 3D printer, plaque, and his fabricated product.

Fab Lab Coordinator Lance Lacey reflected on the payoff of a design coming to realization: “I always enjoy seeing the students expressions as they interact with the physical prototype of their idea for the first time. Before it was an idea and a sketch, but then they see an actual functioning product!”

There were also three honorable mention designs: Eva Torrico from Thomas Jefferson Middle School submitted a Terretami Fork, which combines a spoon, fork, knife, straw, chopsticks, and a milk puncturer all into one reusable utensil.

Tyler Freeman, Connor Freeman, and Lucas Morton from MOT Charter High Schooldesigned a Recyclable Lunch Tray with biodegradable and recyclable material that can be vacuum-formed to allow for bulk-production.

Devin Gerdes, from NOVA, was recognized for Print Catcher, which is a customized basket that prevents sheets from touching the ground once they have been printed.

The Design Challenge is made less of a challenge for NOVA SySTEMic to organize thanks to the generous support of our sponsors: BAE Systems (special thanks to David Sargent and Hannah Wilson), Micron (Zuzana Steen and Robert Simmons), Amtek Company (Alex Baddock), Digital Realty, and Dewberry Engineering (Arlene Evans and Barry Dewberry–Arlene is a NOVA Alumna!)

Industry representatives also served as Design Challenge Judges: from BAE, Jim Sturim (a Project Engineer) and Elly Taylor (a Test Technician). From Digital Realty, Karen Petersburg (a Design Manager), and from Dewberry Engineering, Carmen Bere (a Project Engineer).

The Design Challenge also received stellar support from NOVA, including Dr. Chad Knights, VP of IET and College Computing; IET Dean Paula Ford, Dean of Math, Science, and Engineering; Dr. Abe Eftekari, NOVA SySTEMic Program Manager; Aleksander Marthinussen and Kelly Persons from the NOVA Foundation. NOVA Faculty Nina Lord and Michael Spiller also brought their classes over to the Fab Lab to participate.

Additional recognition and thanks to Kristen Burnham from Prince William Public Libraries, Michelle Van Lare from Arlington Tech, Brittany Greer from Rosie Riveters and Amrata Sahasrabudhe from SERVE Family Shelter.

Finally, special recognition goes to the NOVA Fab Lab team including Lance Lacey, Richard Sewell, Brendan Murphy, Kai Le and Valerie Bierhuizen, who developed, strategized and implemented Design Challenge procedures for months, as well as providing effective outreach to get all participants and sponsors involved.

NOVA SySTEMic Coordinator Brendan Murphy reflected on the focus of student creativity: “We built the challenge to be intentionally open-ended to allow for a wide variety of solutions. It’s truly exciting and inspiring to see the creative ideas that students design.”

First place winners Eli Reeder and Logan Pennington had some sage advice for aspiring future Design Challenge participants; “No idea is a bad idea,” said Eli. “Don’t stress out, because you have a lot of time to do it. You spend most of your time brainstorming. Keep it simple,” Logan added. “If you have a good idea already, don’t stress yourself trying to improve it, just tweak the small things.”

The inaugural Design Challenge Ceremony in July 2021 began the process of bringing back in-person events to the Fab Lab. Going forward, the challenge will be held twice-a-year, in both the fall and spring semesters and is open to middle school, high school and college students.

More information about the Fall Design Challenge will be available here and on the NOVA Fab Lab page by the end of the summer.

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