Belchertown student builds future at 4-H Maker Summit

  • Andrew Aiken, 15 (center), participated in the 4-H Maker Summit in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with Ian Easter, 16, of Raynham and Elina Barrows, 18, of Upton. LISA AIKEN

  • Andrew Aiken, 15, left, with fellow Massachusetts makers Ian Easter, 16, of Raynham and Elina Barrows, 18, of Upton. Lisa Aiken

  • Andrew Aiken, 15, participated in the 4-H Maker Summit in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with Ian Easter, 16, of Raynham and Elina Barrows, 18, of Upton. Lisa Aiken

Staff Writer
Friday, November 24, 2017

BELCHERTOWN — Andrew Aiken has always been a maker. Now he is part of a movement.

Earlier this month, the Belchertown 15-year-old attended the 4-H Maker Summit at the 4-H National Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland. As a multimedia artist, scientist, and “tinkerer,” Aiken said he is glad he embraced his creative side while he is young.

“It opens your mind to stuff you can do when you’re older, and you learn easier, technically, when you’re younger,” Aiken said.

He attended the Maker Summit with two fellow Massachusetts residents: Ian Easter, 16, of Raynham, and Elina Barrows, 18, of Upton. Of about 60 students from at least 16 different states who attended the Maker Summit, Aiken was the only one from western Massachusetts.

The Google-sponsored summit was meant to broaden students’ horizons when it comes to applications for technology in life and the workplace. Various challenges and activities at the 4-day summit tested students’ resourcefulness, creativity, and critical thinking.

“The whole focus was on how to bring all this science and technology into 4-H, so it’s not just being seen as a club for bunnies and cows and horses,” said Lisa Aiken, Andrew’s mother.

Lisa Aiken attended the summit as a chaperone. She says the so-called “maker movement” is revolutionizing more than just the tech sector. Cooking, fashion, and entertainment can all be revolutionized by applying a maker mentality.

“I think 4-H wants their kids to learn to be makers, and not just consumers,” she said.

She mentioned various “makerspaces” in the area, like the one at Amherst Media and the Five Colleges. Sewing machines, 3D printers, soldering irons, and laser cutters are just some of the machines available in the average makerspace.

“The maker movement includes everything our grandparents and our great grandparents knew how to do, like make sauerkraut and how to do a lot of things from way back but incorporating technology as well. 3D printing clothing, jewelry, or making things out of laser cuts, that’s the technology piece.”

As a condition of attendance, Andrew Aiken will reach out to share what he learned at the conference with other students. He is well-versed in Scratch, an open-source visual coding program used at the Maker Summit developed by the MIT Media Lab, and wants to share his knowledge with peers at the Pioneer Valley 4-H Robotics Club, where he is president. He also expects to present what he learned at the Maker Summit at one of the western Massachusetts 4-H Winter Workshops as part of his outreach.

The robotics club, where he learned about the Maker Summit, works on team projects with specific objectives, like making a robot follow a black line, or pick up an object. Recently, the robots have taken up jousting. They meet in the Hasbrouck Building on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus every Friday afternoon.

Thought it began as an agricultural club, 4-H is now a diverse national organization with over 25 million alumni and about 90,000 clubs. The purpose of each club is to foster citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills in youth. The four H’s represent the organization’s four areas of focus for personal development: head, heart, hands and health.

“There’s a social justice club, there’s a lot of STEM and science related clubs, there’s a photography club,” Lisa Aiken said. “So really, anybody can form a club based on interests they want to share or the interests of their kids.”

A homeschooler for most of his life, Andrew Aiken is able to spend time working on independent art and technology projects. He attended Smith Vocational Technical School last year, but decided to go back to homeschooling for 10th grade. One of Andrew’s favorite subjects is math, which he said helps figure out design and technology challenges. His love of electronics started when he received a Snap Circuits Electronic Discovery Kit for a birthday. Now, he fixes household appliances for his parents.

“He’s really got a good ability to look at the parts and put them together, without much trial and error,” his mother said.

As a career path, Andrew Aiken is interested in pursuing cybersecurity and coding. Growing up playing with technology, he said, has made him a fluent user of wires, gadgets and circuits.

Upcoming 4-H National Youth Summits are open to any high school students in grades 9-12, and include the Agri-Science Summit from Jan. 12-15, and the Healthy Living Summit from Feb. 16-19. Summit fees include accommodations, meals, educational programming and tours of the nation’s capital. Students interested in participating should contact school or club leaders to find an adult chaperone to register and accompany them to the event.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com