Santa Clara Techies and Tinkerers Convene at the Twelfth Annual Bay Area Maker Faire
Story and Photos by Erasmo Guerra

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Santa Clara Techies and Tinkerers Convene at the Twelfth Annual Bay Area Maker Faire

Part science fair and part otherworldly comic con with a steampunk top-hats-and-fishnets flair, the 12th annual Bay Area Maker Faire at the San Mateo Event Center this past weekend wowed audiences of all ages–especially the youngest attendees who could be overheard mispronouncing the event name with enchanted glee as the “Maker Fairy.”

The event drew hundreds of makers–techies, tinkerers, DIY hobbyists and crafters, and STEM student clubs–from across the Bay Area, including a number of exhibitors from Santa Clara, like Samaira Mehta, the nine-year-old from Millikin Elementary School, who created CoderBunnyz, the board game that teaches kids how to code.

Mehta had been playing board games since she was five. When she got a Mac computer at the age of six-and-a-half, she started playing with basic drag-and-drop coding through the online platform code.org. She was inspired. Why not create a board game that empowers kids to learn code?

Mehta said she deliberately chose the “bunny” theme to appeal to both genders. “Girls like them because they’re cute,” she said, standing at her Maker Faire booth. “And boys like them because they’re fast.”

She said her favorite part about developing her idea into a physical board game was when she handed her rough sketches to graphic designers and received the first prototypes for the game pieces. She recalled thinking, “Wow! That looks better than my sketch.”

Also at the Faire was Anand Jain, a 17-year-old from Santa Clara High School, president of the SCHS Maker Club, which he co-founded three years ago with a friend who has since graduated. When they first started the club, Jain said their resources were limited to “the stuff from woodworking class.” Now, thanks to the 49ers Foundation, the school boasts the “Fab Lab,” the fabrication workshop that provides state-of-the-art tools and machinery used in STEM-related industries. Also, a few well-written emails Jain fired off to commercial tech companies netted some much-appreciated donations.

At his booth, Jain explained the color-changing LED display project the club has been working on and offered advice to another NorCal teen looking to start a similar club at his school. Jain’s motto for getting administrator buy-in and resources? Just go for it. Write a few proposals. “The worst they can say is no,” he said. He’s been attending the Bay Area Maker Faire since he was eight years old, when he came with this dad, an electrical engineer.

Who knows if he’ll make it next year since he’s currently a second-semester senior bound for the University of Chicago in the fall, where he plans to major in computer science.

Other Santa Clara students at the Faire included Cabrillo Middle School eighth graders Samhitha Hebbale and Lekhana Vankayala, who presented their project on crystallization. They are part of a competitive 6-year program known as the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute that, according to program director Jennifer Lee, receives over a hundred applications each year for 60 spots. Students enroll in the seventh grade and commit to over 300 extra hours of instruction–before and after regular school hours, weekends and summers–focused on STEM-skills and leadership development. They also get an inside look at what an actual STEM job entails.

“We get to meet people from different companies and they describe what they do in their jobs,” Habbale explained. Though the 13-year-old admitted that she didn’t know specifically what she’d like to do in the future, she was certain about one thing. “I’m going to use what I learned here to tackle problems in the real world to improve lives,” she said.

Vankayala appreciated the hands-on experience. “I used to be very shy,” the 14-year-old said, “But this program taught me how to work hard and be competitive–and be nice and cooperative at the same time.”

At another booth, SteamyTech, a Santa Clara-based DIY arts-and-crafts enterprise inspired by old world tech, was giving demos of one of their geared fidget spinners. Lora Price, one of the “master makers” said their regular Maker Nights, where participants assemble and decorate kinetic gear art, is their answer to those now ubiquitous Paint Nights.

San Jose mom Ashley Turner, who wore a paper unicorn horn strapped to her head from another booth, was browsing the SteamyTech kits with her six-year-old, Elijah. “He’s fascinated with everything that deals with construction and building,” she said.

She’d brought Elijah last year, around the time of his birthday, and for his birthday this year he wanted to make a return trip. Turner, who works as an office manager at a sheet metal company admitted, “We do make stuff, just not as cool as this.”

On a final note, Santa Clara’s Central Park Elementary, a new public school that opened last August focusing on project-based learning in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), received the Best in Class award of all the schools who presented at the Maker Faire.