Our History

AMRoC Fab Lab is a program of the non-profit Foundation for Community Driven Innovation.  FCDI founders Steve and Terri Willingham have worked in the informal education arena for nearly two decades, providing mentoring support to youth in FIRST robotics and to people of all ages in the maker community.

The Past that set the Groundwork for the Future

They were the architects, in 2013, of the 10,000 sq. ft.  HIVE makerspace at John F. Germany Library, the flagship of the Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library Cooperation (THPLC) .  Developed in coordination with THPLC administrators, and the professional and dedicated partnership of Sumo Software and PLuGHiTz Corporation, the HIVE was the first large scale public library makerspace in the Tampa Bay area and was one of the largest in Florida,  helping set other libraries on the path to public creative spaces.

The Willinghams have worked with library systems across four counties now helping libraries create community-focused spaces that meet the needs of patrons and neighborhoods.  One of the most successful spaces they helped launch is the Foundry at the Land O’Lakes Public Library, which hosts a full-scale woodworking machine shop, an arts facility that was home to the nation’s first FIRST Robotics Competition high school level robotics team, the Edgar Allan Ohms, which as of 2020, moved to AMRoC Fab Lab.

A History of Expertise

Terri Willingham, with contributions from Steve, has written two books on public library makerspaces, Makerspaces in Libraries (2015) and Library Makerspaces: The Complete Guide (2017), for Rowman & Littlefield publishers, both of which are used as texts in Information Sciences programs nationwide. Terri also served as Regional Director for the national nonprofit FIRST Robotics organization for seven years, helping build and support youth robotics programs for the central Florida area, from Okeechobee to the Panhandle.  During that time, Steve served as Judge Advisor to the FIRST Tech Challenge program for the state of Florida.

Their combined expertise in engineering, the development of public makerspaces and first-hand experience with the positive impact of FIRST youth robotics, where they saw youth from kindergarten through high school transformed by being part of this character-based, strongly mentor-supported STEM education program moved them to create the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation to bring these experiences to more people.

Developing a diverse Board of Directors with equal expertise and a strong community focused ethic, and working with professional and dedicated partners like PLUGHTIZ, with whom FCDI still works closely today,  FCDI organized Gulf Coast MakerCon, the oldest and largest maker festival in Tampa, and ROBOTICON Tampa Bay, a youth STEM education showcase held at the University of South Florida every fall for the last four years, and which annually draws over 4000 attendees.

AMRoC Fab Lab is a direct outgrowth of the success of ROBOTICON and the obvious hunger of local communities for an engaging platform, and a safe and welcoming community space, that gives people an opportunity to learn 21st-century skills and develop self-confidence, self-reliance, and agency in a world where those things can be hard to come by.

University Mall

After receiving an Argosy Foundation grant in 2016 for an FRC field and related equipment to anchor a youth robotics center, and then a grant from the Lightning Foundation in 2017, when Terri was named a Lightning Community Hero, FCDI searched for nearly two years across three counties for the best location for the facility.  University Mall was proposed early in the search process but suggested sites didn’t meet facilities requirements for the full-scale FIRST Robotics Competition field and related needs.

In the fall of 2018, after a couple of false starts, FCDI returned to University Mall to see if any more suitable spaces might have become available.  Then Mall manager Patrice Gingras immediately understood and supported the vision, scope, and potential of a facility like AMRoC Fab Lab in the University Area,  and presented FCDI with the ideal location, in a recently vacated Champs sportswear store.

Ms. Gingras facilitated discussions between FCDI and the remarkable visionary mall owners, RD Management, who also saw the value of a precedent-setting space like AMRoC Fab Lab in the University Area Community.  RD Management has been instrumental in making AMRoC Fab Lab possible, recognizing the power and positive impact a creative, capacity-building facility like AMRoC can have and how it complements their vision for the future of the Mall as it is redeveloped in the new mixed-use city center known as Uptown.

Board of Directors & Program Partners

The FCDI Board of Directors and program development team have a storied history of expertise in the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math/Manufacturing) education, entrepreneurship and business.  You can see a list of current board members and their backgrounds here.

Board members have:

  • A decade of experience in makerspace design, programming, and product delivery, including authorship of two well-received books on the topic
  • A combined 50+ years of experience in FIRST youth robotics and experiential learning,
  • An equal amount of expertise in fields of engineering, with Board members hailing from Harris Corp, Perot Systems, PwC, and Boeing
  • Over 30 years of experience developing and working in youth mentorship programs

Community Partners

FCDI is honored to work with some amazing community partners in building and developing programs for AMRoC Fab Lab.  They include long time partners like PLUGHITZ Corporation,  Studio 7 Communications, and Hillsborough County Public Libraries, who have shared generously of their time and expertise, and more recent community partners like eSmart Recycling, U.S. Auto Training, the Caribbean American National Development OrganizationWellFed Community and NET SVS.  (You can see more of our partners HERE)

FCDI is also appreciative of the ongoing financial support of Truist, the Florida High Tech Corridor, Lockheed Martin, and SOFWERX, and for the community support of the Tampa Innovation Partnership and  countless other organizations and good neighbors.

Awards and Recognition

Lightning Community Hero – Terri Willingham was recognized as a 2017 Lightning Foundation Community Hero, an honor that provided additional seed funding for AMRoC

2019 Children’s Board of Hillsborough County Social Enterprise  Winner

2019 Creative Collaboration Community Impact Award – UACDC/Innovation Partnership

2020 Tampa Bay Inno Blazer Winner

2021 Guidewell Growing Resilient Communities West Coast Florida finalist 

The Future

Our history is important and worth preserving because it informs the way forward.  AMRoC Fab Lab is a precedent-setting space, but the precedent was set far before its site selection, by a dedicated, mission-focused team of dedicated individuals and organizations. Our gratitude to all of these amazing partners is deep and abiding.

Because of those who share the vision for what AMRoC Fab Lab can be, the future is bright and full of possibilities. In 2022, with continued support from RD Management/Soaring City,  AMRoC is moving to a new larger space across the hall from our current location, expanding to over 8000 sq. ft. of programming and build space from which we can continue to serve back to the Uptown Tampa community.

AMRoC will continue to develop and take shape now by virtue of the interests and needs of the University Area, who we hope will come to embrace the facility as a valuable part of a creative and thriving community, where the tools, resources, and shared human capital of AMRoC can help build a bright collective future for Uptown.

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FCDI is a registered 501(c)(3) organization.  All contributions to FCDI are tax deductible as permitted by law.

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