Brooks Crossing Innovation Lab: Sparking community’s imagination

Stretching the Point

Mia Joe, director of Brooks Crossing Innovation Lab, demonstrates a 3D printer. (Photo by Kelli Caplan)

The building on 30th Street in downtown Newport News looks like any other building: brick and fairly nondescript.

But venture inside, and there is nothing standard going on.

Filled with an awe-inspiring amount of technology, opportunity and excitement, Brooks Crossing Innovation Lab is a state-of-the art center on a trajectory to bring people and technology together in a way that has never happened in the city.

The Innovation Lab opened on August 24. It is the brainchild of a partnership among Old Dominion University, the City of Newport News and Newport News Shipbuilding. The vision is to provide a lab that can be as beneficial as possible to the entire community.

With 6,400 square feet of sheer potential, the lab has something for everyone and is a plethora of technology that elevates it to top-of-the-line status.

The lab shares the first floor of the building with an opportunity center, which is a workforce development project. The top three floors of the building house shipyard offices.

Initially, the project was set to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and shipbuilding. But plans shifted when it was decided to seek more community input into what the lab should be. When residents suggested a focus on advanced manufacturing and a recording studio, the partners listened and shifted the lab’s purpose, says Mia Joe, director of the Innovation Lab. What the lab has morphed into is something very user-friendly and special, she says. It’s a maker’s space, an area that is meant to create, educate and stir imagination and creativity.

The lab is fully outfitted with technology that people can use to create amazing projects and, at the same time, learn a skill. The lab has six 3D printers, 22 laptops, a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, a wood shop, a mixed reality station with five head-mounted virtual reality displays and a state-of-the-art recording studio. In the near future, Joe plans to add a high-tech sewing and embroidery machine.

All areas are driven by state-of-the-art technology that is all available to the public to try, use and hone their skills on. To use each piece of equipment, people must first complete a training course. Afterwards, they are free to use it as much as they would like.

The cost? Zero. It’s free to the community. And the supplies are also provided at no cost.

“It’s good stuff,” says Joe, as she shows off colorful projects made on the 3D printers. “We do a lot of problem-based learning here. People learn how to figure it out, how to make what they want.”

So far, about 1,200 people have used the lab. Teachers can bring students on field trips to the lab, the public can come on their own or people can sign up for classes offered by the lab. With plans to expand, It’s all about learning, being open to new experiences and techniques, Joe says.

The lab breaks down its project levels for tinkerers, makers, designers and fabricators. There is something every person can do on every machine. “They leave here with a skill,” says Joe.

The focus of the lab helps schools with their mission to bring STEM skills to life and into classrooms. Science and technology are high priorities, and the Innovation Lab is the perfect vehicle for learning both.

The Newport News Education Foundation was awarded a $300,000 grant from Newport News Shipbuilding to support the integration of the Innovation Lab into Newport News Public School’s curriculum, according to Tami Byron, STEM supervisor of Newport News Public Schools. The lab also has a contract with the National Science Foundation to bring science educators into the center for professional development. Incorporating high-tech equipment into their lesson plans is the goal, Joe says.

Once a person has learned a skill and has decided to pursue it as a possible career, he or she can go to the opportunity side and get help finding a job in that field. The staff helps build resumes and assists with job searches.

The lab is open to adults and children accompanied by a parent. Joe is hoping to offer a menu of classes and projects that will appeal to people of all ages. Recently, the lab has held a literacy class for children accompanied by an adult, a social entrepreneurship class, a Paint on Paper Youth Program and a program incorporating music and the written word. The possibilities are endless, Joe says.

“I want to bring families together as much as I can. I love to see them working on projects together,” she says. “Combining generations is so important.” For Joe, who has worked both at the shipyard and in education, this job is the marriage of everything she loves. She is pleased to be on the ground floor of a lab with the potential to change lives.

“There is so much we can do,” she says. “The needs of the community will dictate how the programs go. I am extremely excited about it. The partners are totally committed to it. Everybody is all in.”

Brooks Crossing Innovation Lab
Address: 550 30th St. Ste. #101,
Newport News, VA 23607
Contact: Mia Joe, director
Phone: 757-975-5309

About Kelli Caplan 74 Articles
Kelli Caplan is mother of three children and a friend to all who know her. She use to spend a lot of time in her SUV, driving to schools and pediatricians, but her children have graduated from high schools. Now she can be found at WalMart and Harris Teeter, playing pickleball or cycling. She loves to try new recipes and new authors’ books. Her favorite foods are green (lettuce, broccoli, pickles). A former crime reporter for the Daily Press, Kelli has been writing for Oyster Pointer as long as she has been able to hold a pencil.

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