Photos by Caleb Timmerman

WE LIVE IN AN AGE of advanced and ever-changing technology. It is in the cars we drive, the phones that connect us, in our homes and in our places of work. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but any great inventor will say that it takes much more than necessity to develop and market the very devices that fuel our world and make our daily lives easier.

It takes curiosity, perseverance, and a set of learned skills and expertise that are all required. No one is born with the ability to prototype their own inventions, or build usable technology from scratch. It starts with the curiosity which leads them to their discovery. In between, an inventor must learn how to make what is in their heads into a physical (or virtual) reality, and then how to go about introducing what they have created to the world around them.

At Berry College in Rome, Georgia, the Hack- Berry Lab is teaching their student body and surrounding community not only the importance of technology, but how to create and build it. It’s no surprise that it all started with a student passionate about creating technology, with the desire to share his passion with others.

"I would love to see this program grow. Our goal is to have up to 80 creative technology majors in the near future."
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While taking computer science courses at Berry, Zane Cochran expressed interest in working some of his own experiments. So, the college gave him the keys to a small storage room that was not being used, and he soon set up shop. The space was small, but he made due, soon creating his own circuits and small devices using skills he was learning in class.

“I started building things; circuits and robots – even 3D printing,” Cochran remembers. “This, of course, sparked the interest of other students who wanted to join in. It got to the point where a lot of people – students and faculty – soon were crammed into the small space.”

Interest in what Cochran was doing continued to grow, and then Cochran met the partner who would help bring his lab to the next level.

John Grout, who studied management science and at the time was the Dean of the Campbell School of Business at Berry College, was posed by the provost of the college to develop a new program. From this challenge, John took his own love of innovation and interest in 3D printing, and posed that the college develop a “Creative Technologies” major. Grout and Cochran teamed up and received the approval for a new, much larger lab to be built at a designated place on campus. They then went on to approve classes that students could take to build their skills in the lab, using the lab itself to practice building and prototyping their inventions. Currently, Berry College offers a major and minor in Creative Technologies, in which 50 students study under to date.

In the spring of 2016, the college decided to designate a new space in which to build a lab that would house the various equipment, tools and work stations necessary for the creative workspace. The lab itself is divided into four major areas including an ideation and creation area, a design studio for prototyping, a wood shop, and a lounge that also doubles as a space for larger projects. The lab currently houses seven 3D printers, used for prototyping. Recently, the lab just took in a large storage container they will be turning into a metal shop.

“We wanted to build a space where students could simply come and create new things where everyone is welcome” says Grout. “We have a lot of students who use the space for their major, some who come to take a few courses, and some who come and work in the space that don’t have any sort of classwork here at all. I would love to see this program grow. Our goal is to have up to 80 creative technology majors in the near future.”

Berry College is known for their hands-on method of education, which the HackBerry Lab certainly proves. “It’s all about understanding our world,” Grout suggests. “The world around us is becoming increasingly technologically oriented, and one of the many things a student gets when they are taking one of these classes is the ability to open something up and see what’s really going on inside. What’s even cooler is after you have taken a couple of these courses, you can look under the hood of your electronic devises and understand what is going on behind the scenes.

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“We try to take the shackles off our students, allowing them to be freely creative. So, that’s what makes our new lab so important,” says Cochran, who now teaches several classes found within the Creative Technologies Major. “(The lab) is a bit off the beaten path on campus – which is clever – because it really gives our students the ability to explore and develop new ideas without interruptions or getting in anyone’s way. However, our lab is known as an open lab, meaning we want anyone to be able to walk through these doors, even if they have never programed or even heard of a 3D printer. If they have any sort of interest, we will gladly take them in.”

To help engage the student population at the college, the HackBerry Lab puts on monthly “hack-a-thons” in which students are challenged to come to the lab to create and show their creations against their peers. Students have a total of four hours to build their creation, which will be judged in the end to decide on a winner.

History majors, music major, business majors or really any student that wishes to learn more about how to create their own technology can take on a creative technology major or minor.

Since the program has started, businesses have been created by students who have continued to grow and operate them after college; creative solutions have been developed and created to solve problems or just make the world a better place. One student in particular, Rachel Leroy, who was on the equestrian team, used the lab to help develop a sensor that a horse can wear to provide the rider priceless information and, in turn, preventing injuries to the animal.

Whatever the passion of the individual inventor, there is a space in the HackBerry Lab for them. The lab is continually growing, and has big plans for the future. They not only openly accept, but encourage members of the community to come and visit the space and become involved in the work. It takes a team of creative minds to create and build the technology that will improve our everyday lives, come show your support.

To get involved with the creative revolution at Berry College’s HackBerry Lab contact them online at info@hackberrylab.com or call at 706-232-5374 ext. 1216