December 3, 2014


Mariano Ulibarri demonstrates a pneumatic tube used for messaging as part of his Parachute Factory’s Summer Makerstate Tour at the Magdalena Public Library.

Las Vegas, N.M. –The Harvard Graduate School of Education invited Highlands University media arts graduate Mariano Ulibarri to help catalyze a national network of maker educators.

Ulibarri’s Parachute Factory makerspace in Las Vegas and his work with libraries throughout the state caught the attention of Harvard’s Agency by Design, which is part of the Project Zero research center.

“We pulled together a phenomenal national working group of 35 thought leaders and practitioners in maker education and design to share ideas, practice and opportunities,” said Jen Ryan, Agency by Design project manager. “We see Mariano as a deep and thoughtful leader in this work. He knows his community and clearly articulates outcomes for how young people can benefit from maker education.”

A makerspace is a do-it-yourself environment that brings people together to create, tinker, and repair items using open-source computer hardware and software, as well as other technology tools like three-dimensional printers for creating objects.

Ryan said Ulibarri is pilot testing some of Agency by Design’s education resources and his data is part of Harvard’s ongoing study of best practices in maker space education.

Edward Clapp is the senior research manager at Agency by Design and lectures in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard. This summer, Clapp observed Ulibarri and several media arts AmeriCorps interns who took Parachute Factory on the road to 25 state libraries throughout New Mexico for the Makerstate Tour.

“I was very impressed with Mariano’s ability to engage students of all ages in maker activities,” Clapp said. “At one library, he helped young people make small robots using the head of a tooth brush, a small motor, and a nickel-size battery. Mariano made the activities fun, while helping the students understand the scientific principles behind their robots.”

Ulibarri, 33, is a fourth-generation Las Vegas photographer who earned his M.A. in media arts from Highlands in 2013, with an emphasis in physical computing and multimedia. He created Parachute Factory for his thesis and launched the popular maker space in Las Vegas in 2012.

“In the makerspace environment, we hook children with the idea that it’s magic and then debunk that and let them become the magician,” Ulibarri said. “Makerspaces embody collaborative person-to-person learning where participants are both teacher and student. Everyone brings something to the table, which is empowering.”

Ulibarri said the makerspace framework builds people who are creative, motivated problem solvers that take a stake in their own learning.

“I’m trying to support what I believe is a better way to learn that will help prepare our kids for a rapidly changing world where they need to adapt to new technologies and paradigms. Connecting with this Harvard group and seeing seeds of maker education sprouting all around the country validates what I do and motivates me to continue,” Ulibarri said.

Ryanne Cooper, bureau chief of library development services for the New Mexico State Library, said the response to Ulibarri’s mobile Parachute Factory has been extremely positive.

“Mariano is so good at helping fire up creative spaces in people’s minds,” Cooper said. “The librarians and patrons love his makerspace because it’s so engaging, hands-on, and exploratory, with a focus on digital technology.

“The goal of the Makerstate initiative is to excite New Mexico communities about science, technology, engineering, art and math. We are promoting public libraries as community spaces for sharing knowledge and skills,” Cooper said.
Fall semester media arts students in a Highlands exhibit design class met at Parachute Factory to create the fabrication for the “Memories of Migration” exhibit the students developed for Las Vegas Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation.

“Parachute Factory is a good learning environment for our students and also gives them a chance to share their skills with the community,” said media arts professor Miriam Langer, who advised Ulibarri and taught him in courses like physical computing and microcontroller technology. “As a maker himself, Mariano knows the benefits of learning by doing and the joy of sharing the experience with others.”

Ulibarri has presented on makerspaces at a number of national conferences and has been featured in technology publications like Getting Smart.

He earned his B.A. in photography from Webster University in St. Louis and teaches media arts classes in digital photography at Highlands.