Making It Work: Tinker’s Box, UWG’s Makerspace, Turns Ideas to Reality

Colton Campbell

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

Witt Teem has never encountered a problem he didn’t want to fix. As the lab manager of the Tinker’s Box, a makerspace sponsored in part by the University of West Georgia, he gets to help people fix their problems every day.

The space, operated by UWG in partnership with Carroll Tomorrow and the Burson Center business incubator, welcomes inventors of all types. If you have a brilliant idea for a product and want to take it to “Shark Tank,” a makerspace is where you go to build the prototype if you don’t have the resources and technology to do it yourself.

“Some days, I help someone with a software solution, and then other days, someone wants to make a motorized skateboard,” Teem said. “That’s what got me into this, though. My job is less about being an all-knowing encyclopedia and more about just being able to figure out the answer to a problem.”

The concept of allowing UWG students and members of the West Georgia community to merge an idea with something tangible is what the Tinker’s Box is all about.

“We are designed to facilitate innovation, STEM education, commercialization and business startups for our people on our campus and in our community,” Teem said. “Our mission to foster an environment for creativity, product or software development, and the exchange of knowledge and ideas.”

While imagination and a drive to innovate are critical to a maker, having the right tool for the job doesn't hurt, either. For a nominal fee, the Tinker's Box is equipped with the right resources to assist any inventor or entrepreneur through the prototyping process.

Some of the highlights include 3-D printers, a laser cutter, a digital media studio, woodworking tools, circuit-building components and a full-service computer lab.

Donna Lackey currently serves as director of UWG’s Office of Community Engagement, which operates the space from the university’s perspective, but in her prior role, she served as senior vice president of Carroll Tomorrow and oversaw the operation of the Burson Center.

“We started seeing a need for a makerspace to assist the incubator while I was still in the management role there,” Lackey said. “So in 2014, Carroll Tomorrow applied for a grant with the Appalachian Regional Commission, and we were able to secure funding – with a match from the Carroll County Development Authority – to get the Tinker’s Box started.”

UWG entered into an operations management agreement with Carroll Tomorrow last year to provide staffing, training and a collaborative making environment for higher education students, faculty and staff, and the general “making” community in West Georgia.

“Our goal with the funding we received was to open up a space that was designed not only for students at the higher education level, but also for businesses and individuals who were looking at innovation for making various products,” Lackey said. “The relationship would be such that those makers, if they decided they wanted to go into commercialization, the incubator would be readily available to them for patents and their business development.”

Teem is a recent graduate of Berry College with a degree in creative technologies, which he describes as a combination of engineering, design and entrepreneurship. He said he’s inspired to come to work every day because of what STEM education did for him.

“The reason I’m doing what I do now is because I became interested in STEM learning,” Teem said. “Even if a student or a person doesn’t come in with a concrete idea, they could be inspired in a different way. A makerspace can be just a bunch of tools in a building, but a good one offers students the opportunity to figure out new ways of solving problems.”

As for the name of the space – Tinker’s Box – it came to Lackey in the dream.

“This is a rare opportunity for a university to engage with its community on this level,” Lackey said. “We wanted to offer opportunities for collaboration between town and gown to enhance everyone’s innovation. That’s the key word: innovation. That’s what will keep us competitive as a community and a university.”

Seeing that innovation take place firsthand is Teem’s passion.

“All of this technology is great, but the real magic is when people from diverse backgrounds come in with different ideas and try to solve a problem together,” he said. “That’s innovation.”