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Sierra College launches new Hacker Lab in Rocklin

Tech facility offers workspace for students, entrepreneurs
By: Andrew Westrope,
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Sierra College unveiled its new Hacker Lab to a standing-room only crowd last week at 4804 Granite Drive in Rocklin, the second of two such facilities in the region to offer an open workspace for students, hobbyists and entrepreneurs to build and test new ideas.

The 3,700-square-foot space includes a textiles center, a laser cutter, a 3-D printer, a welding station, an electronics and robotics station, a wood shop, design computer stations and other equipment available for use through membership. Detailed on hackerlab.org/sierracollege, memberships range from $12.50 a month for Sierra College students to $99.99 a month for an all-access paths, with variable prices in between for different ages and levels of access.

Introducing the Hacker Lab to more than 100 visitors at the grand opening May 7 – as Rocklin City Manager Rick Horst joked, “We’ll need a bigger building soon, right?” – Sierra College mechatronics instructor Michael Halbern said a similar facility in San Jose inspired him and a few other faculty members almost exactly two years earlier to start a workshop in Rocklin. Teaming with staff from Hacker Lab on I Street in Sacramento, which opened in 2012, Halbern said they organized and outfitted a local outlet for basic human creativity.

“We evolved as creatures with opposable thumbs. We want to manipulate the world around us, to change our environment. We take raw materials and turn them into finished products. We have ideas that become new things. This is an opportunity for a space to exist for the community, not solely for Sierra College students – though we get a very nice break, thank you,” he said. “What it’s all about is... to take that which we really don’t do too well in a classical educational environment, which is kind of constrained by grading systems and assignments and schedules and hours, and break away those barriers to create a more open, realistic environment for ideas to happen and become reality.”

Steve Hunter, one of the main facilitators of Rocklin’s Hacker Lab, summarized its purpose as twofold: provide quick public access to hands-on education, and assist business startups.

“We have that incubator-space climate here, where you can come in and talk to other people who have been successful in starting a business,” he said. “It’s really a community space.”

The lab is managed and staffed during the day by Hacker Lab, though the space and most of its equipment is accessible 24 hours a day to members with key cards.

Carol Pepper-Kittredge, director for Sierra College’s Center for Applied Competitive Technologies, said the college rented the space and outfitted it with approximately $80,000 worth of technology, to say nothing of the hundreds of man-hours that went into finishing it. In doing so, she said, it has taken strides to break down the barriers of traditional education.

“(Some) might want to come and teach a class here, but we won’t have core-credit classes here. It’ll be different,” she said. “Our labs (at Sierra College) are really, really nice, and they have the space they need. This is really to go beyond that lab time.”