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Fab lab breaks the ice for invention and knowledge

June 18, 2024
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Omro students work in teams to manufacture a toy front end loader in the school’s fab lab.

Omro grows its prowess in STEM education

When a group of Omro High School students invented “IGGI,” a small robot that measured the thickness of lake ice without having a person walk on it, they ushered in a new era in science and technology education at the school.

IGGI—short for Ice Geospatial Guided Instrument—wound up winning the national Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest and the $100,000 top prize in 2020, beating out 3,000 competitors. It also attracted funding from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for its development. IGGI could be sent onto frozen lakes to send back data to a linked phone application, eliminating the safety risk of sending someone onto the ice.

The winnings helped fund creation of a fabrication laboratory, or fab lab. The labs are generally outfitted with high-tech 3D printers, computerized routers, laser cutters, robotic gear, computer-aided design software. The gear helps fuel innovation and fuel critical thinking skills.

Boosting success in STEM

To build on its contest success, Omro leveraged some private donations, used district funding, and won a $25,000 WEDC Fab Labs Grant, one of four it received from WEDC through 2023.

An Omro student uses fab lab equipment to complete a class assignment.

An Omro student uses fab lab equipment to complete a class assignment.

Omro science teacher Rob Turner, whose students developed IGGI, has been a driving force in expanding the lab and using is as a tool to advance science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning.

“When we went out and toured MIT, I saw their fab lab and knew that this was something we needed in our school,” Turner says. “We used the WEDC money to get a lot of the big machines that had a lot of up-front cost. We used some of our prize winnings to add some things, and the district pitched in to renovate space for the lab.”

The 2020 grant money paid for a laser cutter, CNC mills, a vinyl cutter, and 3D printers. The district then partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s engineering department, Fox Valley Technical College, Oshkosh and Pierce Truck, Amcor, and others to develop a state-of-the-art curriculum. Then, in the next two years, the district won consecutive $25,000 WEDC grants to add tools including a Wazer Water Jet, a universal laser, and a cold vinyl laminator. By that time, the lab was available to all middle- and high-school students.

In 2023, the district received a $17,485 grant to build lab carts with fab lab gear for use at Omro Elementary School. The equipment helped K-5 students to invent and create while developing practical skills.

“We took a mini lab to them, instead of having them come to the high school,” Turner says. “They learn computer-aided design, how to draw something in the software or how to print something they might need to make a car they want to race.”

“The fab lab is a shining star for us, and we take a lot of pride in that.”

Jay Jones

Superintendent, School District of Omro

Hands-on lab fuels learning

Turner says students have embraced the fab lab because it goes beyond the bounds of traditional classroom learning.

“There’s a lot of just-in-time learning that goes on here,” says Turner. “Kids enjoy the challenge of not knowing and then working through a tough problem. Kids have super cool ideas, but they’re not sure where to start. This is the place they can start because we can make anything we need here.”

Students learn about circuitry, computer-aided design, advanced manufacturing, motors, physics, and computer coding. They work in teams to create objects and create a four-inch-tall action figure of themselves.

Jay Jones, Omro’s district superintendent, says that aside from building critical thinking skills in students, the fab lab’s success has benefited the district in other ways. Like many districts of its size, Omro has been losing enrollment and competing for students. The lab has become a way to distinguish the district, appealing to students and their families, says Jones: “The fab lab is a shining star for us, and we take a lot of pride in that.”


School District:

Build on past success to reinvest in further development of support for student innovation and skill building, making the school district a top choice in the process

State support:
Four Fab Labs Grants through WEDC

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