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Meet Thomas Kearns of Bit Space in Lincoln Square

Today we’d like to introduce you to Thomas Kearns.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am co-founder and director of Bit Space, a makerspace specifically designed for kids and teens. Several years ago while working as the curricular director of the design communications department of the architecture school at the Illinois Institute of Technology, I had an exciting idea: I could teach the same lessons to seven and eight year olds as I could teach to my college architecture students.

My business partner, Manoj Mahenthiran, and I set off to turn his inventive idea into reality. Together, we rented a 5,000-square foot space in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood and converted it into a functioning makerlab specially built for children. By 2017, we opened a second facility in Wilmette and started a partnership with Whitney Young High School in the West Loop, offering summer camps to students. In 2018, we collaborated with University of Chicago Laboratory Schools to offer summer programs in their two makerspaces, which were custom designed and built by us. Over the past three years, we have hosted hundreds of camps, classes, birthday parties, and field trips at Bit Space.

In addition to offering services for kids and teens, we design and build makerspaces for schools, we consult with schools to offer professional development and training for faculty and staff, and we offer a comprehensive maker curriculum for K-12.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
At the beginning, one of the biggest challenges was communicating to families what a makerspace is and what we can do at Bit Space. While many parents remember shop class from when they were kids, and many kids have been exposed to kit-based projects in school or have some experience tinkering with basic software programs and tools, Bit Space is a lot more than shop or coding classes. Once kids are able to see the wide-range of projects they are able to create here, they are hooked; and parents are always delighted to see the amount of fun the kids have while they learn.

Bit Space – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are a premier makerspace for kids and teens. It’s a place where children can learn from expert guides about design thinking and how those skills translate to building real projects. Through our curriculum, kids learn how to safely and effectively use a variety of tools, machines, technology, and software to design and build real things with real materials.

– Our classes and camps teach kids how to safely work with hand and power tools, high-end digital fabrication machines (laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC milling machines), professional-level design software, programmable electronics, video and sound production software and equipment, virtual reality and other cutting-edge technologies.

– Our guides are experts in a variety of disciplines, such as architecture, computer science, engineering, and design, and they share their real-world experience with the kids.

– We don’t use kits, and we don’t use software and tools designed just for kids. Our students and campers are using the same software programs, tools, and machines professionals use.

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least about our city?
Chicago has so much to offer in the way of culture and art. You can be inspired just by looking around at the wonderful architecture, visiting the museums, or walking along the lakefront. The city grants opportunities to explore a wide-variety of cultures represented in the various neighborhoods tucked around the city, through neighborhood festivals or by expanding your palate at the different restaurants on every corner.

Similar to many large, urban areas in the U.S., the socio-economic disparity is very prevalent. There are pockets of the city where crime and violence are an everyday part of life for too many young people. By working with schools across the city, we hope to bring a new set of learning opportunities to students and to inspire as many young people as possible.

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Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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