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 and is home to the nation’s first FIRST Robotics Competition high school level robotics team.
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, 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 a professional and dedicated partners like PLuGHiTz, 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.
After receiving an Argosy Foundation grant in 2016 for an FRC field and related equipment to anchor a youth robotics center, 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, who 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 immediately 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. Current Board Members include:
- Steven Willingham, Board Chairman
- Joann Fitzgerald, Oldsmar Cares & Studio 7 Communications
- Michele Mendez, Bank of America
- Michael Smith-Mapp, Boeing Corp. (Ret.)
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
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, Sumo Software, Studio 7 Communications, and Hillsborough Libraries, who share generously of their time and expertise, and more recent community partners like eSmart Recycling, U.S. Auto Training, Bits4Bots and 3D Musketeers, who contribute time, talent and resources to AMRoC.
FCDI is also appreciative of the in-kind support of the Tampa Innovation Partnership for 2D printing services support , Ultimate 3D Printing Store for our amazing collection of 3D printers, 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
AMRoC wins 2019 Children’s Board of Hillsborough County Social Enterprise competition, providing additional funding support for University Area community programming.
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. 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 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.