Student-run Mini Maker Fair returns to PT

Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 10/3/18

For the fourth year in a row, enthusiasts for science, technology, engineering and math can take the pulse of what’s going on with those subjects in the Peninsula while helping to bolster local …

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Student-run Mini Maker Fair returns to PT


For the fourth year in a row, enthusiasts for science, technology, engineering and math can take the pulse of what’s going on with those subjects in the Peninsula while helping to bolster local student groups involved in those areas, when the Mini Maker Fair returns to Port Townsend.

One of the annual event’s student organizers is local homeschooled high school senior Ella Ashford, who is active in a number of science, technology, engineering and math activity clubs, including the Port Townsend STEM Club, the Port Townsend Roboctopi robotics team, the Port Townsend Sea Dragons underwater robotics team, and now, a new Tech Challenge team for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

Ashford was part of the first group of students to start the entirely student-run community event, which is conducted by the Port Townsend STEM Club’s Dragon Alliance. Not only has she been heartened to see so many of her teammates stick with the Mini Maker Fair as they’ve grown up together, but she’s also delighted to welcome back some original team members who were away for a few years.

“The way this all started was, as part of the FIRST World Class Challenge, we would each prepare PowerPoint presentations to share with each other,” Ashford said. “We had a lot of fun making them, but we discovered that we weren’t very good audiences to each other. Since we weren’t very attentive with PowerPoint, we decided to flip it on its head and ask ourselves, ‘What ways do kids learn best?’”

Thus the Mini Maker Fair was born, with its student organizers taking care to include workshops, contests, an interactive STEAM (STEM plus art) booth, and featured speakers to engage the attention spans of their fellow youths. Ashford couldn’t be more proud of how much it’s grown.

“It’s become a world-class event,” Ashford said, noting this year’s Mini Maker Fair features 26 demonstrators, each with their own booths. “In our second year, our featured speaker was Erika Bergman, a National Geographic Young Scientist Award winner, and last year, the featured speaker was … well, me, but I was live streaming with other robotics teams from Denmark, where I was piloting a STEM exchange program.”

This year’s featured speaker is Nikki Bowery from the Peninsula College “Scallywags” team for the SAMPE (Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering) Student Bridge Contest.

“The Scallywags are ranked third in the world for their carbon fiber bridge designs,” Ashford said.

Bowery will be speaking from 10 to 11 a.m., while the rest of the Mini Maker Fair will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., all at the Cotton Building at 607 Water St. in Port Townsend. Ashford pointed out that this year’s event again coincides with the Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race.

Popcorn and water sales at the fair will help support not only the Dragon Alliance’s new as-yet-unnamed team, but also its outreach efforts to schools across the county.

Ashford explained the Dueling Dragons FIRST LEGO League team is making the rounds at Port Townsend, Chimacum and Quilcene schools to teach robotics, once a week for five weeks in a row, as part of their “First Five Fridays” initiative.

This year, eight school teams are growing out of this initiative, which includes in-class instruction with participating teachers, and three official competition teams being granted access to free after-school programming sponsored by the Applied Education Foundation.

“It’s a replica of the successful infrastructure that’s in place in Denmark,” Ashford said. “I observed it while teaching in Danish schools, in partnership with the Capital of Children.”

While grant funding covers some of their expenses, the Dueling Dragons have been soliciting donations to make up the difference for the new school teams, and have even started a GoFundMe page to help keep the Mini Maker Fair a free event, at



On the eve of the Mini Maker Fair, Ashford and her teammates were hashing out ideas for a name for their FIRST Tech Challenge team, and they took the time to share with The Leader why they got involved in STEM and robotics programs.

Ashford was joined at the outdoor table of her house by her teammates, including her two younger brothers -— ninth-grader Nathaniel and seventh-grader Everest -— all three of whom are homeschooled.

Adeline Gellert DePalma is in eighth grade at Blue Heron Middle School and has just joined the Dragon Alliance this year, while Nathaniel Ashford has been in robotics for eight years, giving him almost as many years in as his big sister Ella.

Both DePalma and Nathaniel credited Ella with recruiting them into the program, although DePalma had already been interested in robotics after taking a STEAM elective, and Nathaniel developed a love of building things through working with his father.

“He’s been building this boat in Oahu since I was born, and I’ve helped him out,” Nathaniel said. “I like the engineering side of it.”

“I’m definitely looking forward to the competitions,” DePalma said. “Everyone on the team has been super inviting, and they don’t make me feel bad for not knowing everything yet.”

Like Nathaniel Ashford, homeschooled sisters Sophia (10th grade) and Donna Lukin (ninth grade) were early joiners in the local robotics program, with Sophia joining eight years ago. They had an intermission of participation when their Air Force dad was stationed in Colorado for a few years.

Sophia Lukin even designed a game that’s since become a traditional activity at the annual All-County Picnic, because it teaches participants how to get to high ground in case of emergencies.

“Last year, there were 80 kids who’d never used a hand-powered radio,” Lukin said. “There were only 25 this year.”

OCEAN student Ayden Ratliff was the only sixth-grader huddled around the table, but he’s always felt like he’s fit in with the team, as has Port Townsend High School senior Timothy Logan Flanagan, who was working remotely the day of the Dragons’ brainstorming, rebuilding computers for the teams to work on.

Whatever their name, the Dragons’ FIRST Tech Challenge team is already in the midst of an eight-week build season that runs into November, which distinguishes it from the FIRST Robotics season of six weeks for the Port Townsend Roboctopi, who start their build season in 2019.

For more information, email or visit the Port Townsend STEM Club’s Facebook page at “PTSTEMClub.”