Meet Seiji Abe, FabNewport and PVD Young Maker’s Lead Technologist. Abe is enthusiastic about his work and always passionate about new ideas for improving what we do.
Tell me a little about yourself and why you like working at FabNewport.
My name is Seiji Abe and I am an instructor and the Lead Technologist for FabNewport and PVDYM. I started working part time at FabNewport a few years ago while still finishing my B.A. in Computer Science at the University of Rhode Island. Upon my graduation, I was lucky enough to be able to get a full-time position at FabNewport. I have been working full time with FabNewport/PVDYM since August 2018, and I have enjoyed every minute of my time here.
The first reason I enjoy working at FabNewport is that everything we do is about collaborative growth and bringing out the best in everybody we work with. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about the growth of our students, staff, or the community at large; everybody involved ends up more confident, capable, and experienced. The hands-on, collaborative, and experientially based learning model that we employ creates a unique and valuable class environment where everybody can take risks, grow, and pursue their passions. I especially love the fact that I can learn right alongside my students; if I don’t know how to do something, we research and find the answer together. I have always believed that there is something very powerful about breaking down the barriers traditionally put between the student and the teacher; after all, it can be hard to connect with students from ‘atop the Ivory Tower.’
The second reason I enjoy working at FabNewport is that, just like our students, we are allowed to identify our strengths, interests, and passions, and pursue them as far as we are willing and able. Too many of the complaints about traditional educational models have to do with the gap between what is taught in schools and how it applies to life (i.e., “When am I going to need this?”).
When it comes to our students, especially our teen interns, our program’s foundation is about taking the specific skills we are teaching and finding a way to directly apply them to the topics, projects, and goals that are important to them. This same attention to the interests and growth of the individual is devoted to our staff and instructors. We are given the freedom and opportunity to define our interests and set goals, as long as they also make sense for the organization as a whole. So when a new project comes up, our staff is given a chance to volunteer, rather than be assigned. We are also allowed to design our original projects and initiatives and apply for funding to support it. This has allowed so many of our staff to grow our organization and follow their passions simultaneously. I am hard pressed to think of many other fields/organizations where these kinds of opportunities exist for staff to define their roles and goals. That being said, this freedom has helped me learn so much about what interests me and motivates me as an individual, employee, and maker.
Finally, the last thing I like about working at FabNewport is how agile, flexible, and resilient to change we are. As a result of both our egalitarian and mostly horizontal management structure and the freedom of opportunity I discussed above, FabNewport has always been able to handle rapid change. In my first two years here, we grew from three full-time employees to over 12, and we have continued to grow since. This ability to quickly pivot to handle new circumstances has been incredibly valuable in the last five months since Covid hit. While many more bureaucratic businesses and organizations have struggled to adapt to the lockdown's new realities, FabNewport has adjusted relatively easily. I feel that FabNewport has used this time to make changes that will likely continue even once Covid is over. Rather than struggling to get by, we have taken this as an opportunity to try new things and make our programs even more flexible and relevant to the 21st century’s needs. To sum it up, I think FabNewport and PVDYM may emerge on the other side of 2020 in a better position than we were at the start. How many other organizations can you think of that can say that?
What have you learned about yourself and the community?
My time at FabNewport has helped to teach me many things about myself, education, and our community as a whole. On a personal level, the opportunities for growth and selfexpression provided to me by this job have helped me learn about myself, what makes me happy, and how I can best contribute to my community and the world. The lessons that I find the most value have to do with education and the community. Working in the ten Library Maker Spaces across Providence (run by PVDYM) has helped to reinforce in my mind how unique every community, neighborhood, and individual student is when it comes to their educational and growth needs. To succeed in education, it is essential to identify each student’s specific needs and strengths and find a way to connect and relativize their lessons to the reality of their life.
I have seen the fallout time and time again when that connection is missed during a student’s education formative years. Alternatively, I have seen the positive impact of connecting a student with a group of like-minded peers and mentors. I believe that connection is the lynchpin that determines a person's success in all aspects of their life. If they are disconnected from academics, family or friends, it becomes much more difficult for them to succeed.
What are you doing right now to improve your work?
The steps that I am taking right now to improve the work that I do are centered around this connection idea. For the last five months, the main focus of that work is finding ways to keep these connections growing despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Since school went virtual this spring, everything we have been doing has focused on finding new and novel ways of continuing our Hands-on and Experiential Learning when we cannot be ‘hands-on.’
This summer, we piloted a Take-Home Activity Bag program through the PCL and PPL library locations. We assembled 1200 total bags consisting of four different pathways with three other activity bags within each; we then paired them with a website offering additional instructions, resource links, activities, and a gallery for students to post their completed work. This program was such a success that we have decided to continue with the activity bag model through the remainder of the Covid-19 pandemic and will likely continue using them even once things return to normal. We will even be using modified versions of these bags in some of the Design Classes we offer through the MET High School and other schools in Providence to provide a hands-on component to our virtual lessons. More info at https://www.insideoutpvd.org/
Thanks for reading,
The Fab Team