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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Hamilton County Schools interim Superintendent Dr. Nakia Towns speaks on Wednesday, October 20, 2021 at Chattanooga State Community College. The school partnered with Hamilton County Schools and Public Education Foundation to create the first K-14 fabrication lab.

STEM School sophomore Abbie Madewell sat in the design studio, 3D printing a doughnut shape to make into an eyeball for her project.

Another group of STEM School students in the workshop — the next room over — gathered around a table covered with felt and colorful spools of thread. Elliot, a scarecrow with a body made out of felt, had a 3D-printed head.

STEM School students worked on the fall and Halloween-themed projects in the Global Center for Digital Innovation — billed as the first K-14 digital fabrication center in the world, and unveiled Wednesday at Chattanooga State Community College in collaboration with Hamilton County Schools and the Public Education Foundation.

The center, on the second floor of the Center for Engineering, Technology, Arts & Sciences and Wacker Institute building at Chattanooga State, will serve K-12 students in Hamilton County Schools and college students attending Chattanooga State.

"The [center] was a dream that started several years ago, when Tony Donen, principal of the STEM High School, reached out to Chattanooga State with an idea to reimagine the space on the second floor of the CETAS building to be something truly transformational," said Rebecca Ashford, president of Chattanooga State, in a presentation to attendees of the center's ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday afternoon.

The Global Center for Digital Innovation consists of two labs — the design studio, with computers and electronic equipment like 3D printers for instruction and designing prototypes, and the workshop, with woodworking and digital tools for making prototypes.

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Chattanooga State K-14 digital fabrication center

Down the hall, the center features an entrepreneur area, a space with several rooms without windows. Tremaine Powell, dean of engineering and information technologies at Chattanooga State, said the space is designed to encourage entrepreneurs and can be used to finalize prototypes and develop marketing materials for their proprietary ideas.

(READ MORE: Student speakers talk about eLabs to kick off final day of Chattanooga Fabrication Institute)

Construction on the center began in November 2019. Renovation of the space came from a state-funded project, said Chattanooga State Vice President of College Advancement and Public Relations Nancy Patterson, and Chattanooga State funded all computers, network, audio and video and furniture.

The center continues the expansion of digital fabrication labs, or eLabs, in Hamilton County. In March, the Public Education Foundation received an anonymous $1 million donation to fund 15 eLabs, seven of which opened in elementary schools this year. Aside from the Global Center for Digital Innovation, the district now has 30 Hamilton County Schools and Volkswagen eLabs, said Michael Stone, vice president of innovative learning at the foundation.

"This center is not just about building technical skills for current needs. [It] will be the epicenter for developing businesses of tomorrow. No longer will we just be filling needs, we'll be providing students the opportunity to ideate, create and develop products and industries that don't yet even exist," Donen said.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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