Meet the Maker: Chuck Stephens

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Chuck performing at 2014 Gulf Coast MakerCon

We met Chuck Stephens at our very first Maker Festival, Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire, in 2012, where he joined us to showcase his stencil art. Since then he’s become a fixture in the Tampa Bay Maker community, doing everything from helping produce events and programs with Eureka! Factory, mentoring FIRST teams and creating some really amazing art and music.  We asked Chuck to tell us more about what he’s been up to recently and what he’s bringing to Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015.

GCMC: Who are and what do you make?

Eureka Factory Team

Chuck, 2nd from left, at Eureka! Factory library workshop.

CS: I’m a self-taught artist and maker. I specialize in recycling, reusing, repurposing and repairing discarded and broken items. I’m a consultant for Eureka!Factory, conducting staff training for libraries and other organizations interested in starting makerspaces and other creative STEM projects. I’m also a mentor for Hillsborough High Schools First Robotics program, Team Hydra.

GCMC: Why do you do what you do?

CS: I believe that technology should be accessible to all regardless of economic or social factors. Using recycled components and materials makes ‘making’ open to everyone. By sharing my techniques through training sessions and Instructables I hope to inspire folks to learn, have fun and reduce the waste stream.

GCMC: Why do you think it’s important, useful or worth doing?

CS: The difference between the maker movement and traditional hobbyists is that makers are connected and multidisciplinary. The maker movement coincided with the development of social media, allowing ideas to spread virally. This means that massive collaborative development has become the norm. Contrast the rapid advancement of 3D printing in the hands of hardware hackers vs. the glacial roll out of 2D paper printing technologies from corporations in the 80’s and 90’s. The maker movement allows for rapid idea dissemination and evolution free from the concerns of the market. Makers also embrace a jack-of-all-trades approach. This is partly a result of the connectedness of the movement. We learn from each other. Ultimately, makers make makers.

GCMC: What are you bringing to Gulf Coast MakerCon?

CS: Lately I’ve focused on two projects. The most important one is being a mentor for Team Hydra. These kids have inspired me and given me hope for the future. FIRST Robotics is an amazing program that teaches leadership skills, technical education in a hands-on setting and team work. We’ll be there showing off our robots, highlighting our program and raising a little money to defray the costs of our program.

Organ donor projectI’m also debuting the Organ Donor Project. I’ve been getting old electronic organs from craigslist and stripping the for parts to create other projects. I’ve built a Leslie rotary speaker amp, a free standing spring reverb unit, a small portable practice amp, an arduino based synthesizer and other musical projects from old organ parts. The amazing thing is that no one wants these old organs. They are the ultimate symbol of consumer electronic waste. These organs were sold in malls across the country for thousands of dollars and now you can get them for free. They are a cornucopia of reusable parts and components! I’ve been documenting my organ projects on Instructables so that others can copy and improve on my work and keep these awesome resources out of the landfill.

I’ll be performing some experimental music and helping Tony Selvaggio of ScraponSpot with the Deconstruction booth, where folks will have the opportunity to take apart electronics to learn about recycling, reuse and the challenges of e-waste disposal. I’ll be wearing a lot of hats!

GCMC: Will folks be able to do anything at your booth?

CS: I’ll have various synthesizers and sound devices that folks will be able to explore and play with. My booth will be a cacophonous playground of sound. Come on by and get noisy!

GCMC: Why should folks come out to a maker festival?

CS: I attended my first maker event a few years back. I was a lone wolf, making stuff for my own enjoyment and entertainment. I was pretty productive but I kept my light under a bushel. At that first event I met Terri Willingham, local organizer, regional director for FIRST Robotics and matriarch of an amazing family of engineers, hackers and creatives. I also met three young people from Team Duct Tape, a FIRST Tech Challenge team made up mostly of home schooled young people. Joel, Ryder and Marissa amazed me with their intelligence, maturity and professionalism. I’d never met kids like them.

When Terri invited me to help them with a hackathon project, I jumped at the chance to work with these great young folks. Now, these few years later, I’m an active mentor with three FIRST teams from varied socio-economic backgrounds, I’m a regular volunteer at FIRST events and I’m pursuing a new career as an educational consultant and staff trainer in the maker field. I also found a social network of like minded geeks, makers and other creative types that I never knew existed in the Bay Area. Most importantly, I’m more productive that ever and I’m documenting and sharing my work to inspire and inform others to be creative and look at the trash pile a little differently.

Why should folks come out to a maker festival? Well, if you’re not careful it just might completely change your life.

GCMC: What’s so great about making stuff?

CS: For me making and learning go hand-in-hand. Every new idea means research and experimentation to make it work. By connecting learning to my field of interest I find that

I understand concepts and new ideas much quicker than if they remained in the realm of theory. When I use recycled and repurposed parts it forces me to think outside the box and be a bit more creative than if I just bought a kit of parts and new materials.

Go. Do. Share.

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Word, Chuck!

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