Sonya Pryor-Jones ’94 was honored at the White House in June for her work to make digital tools widely available, and on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 11:10 a.m. in Higley Hall Auditorium, she returns to Kenyon to speak about how her liberal arts education connects to “the maker movement.”
Pryor-Jones is the chief implementation officer at the Fab Foundation, a nonprofit spun off from work by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From her home in Cleveland, she helps the Fab Foundation create community spaces, called “Fab Labs,” that provide access to digital fabrication tools that allow anyone to make almost anything. Such setups are often called “maker spaces.”
She was chosen by President Barack Obama’s administration to be one of 10 “Champions of Change for Making” for empowering people to become inventors in a digital age.
“For me to be in the White House, honored for my work, was humbling,” Pryor-Jones said. “The maker movement, for me, has been about getting access to these tools for people from all walks of life.”
During her visit to Kenyon, she will meet with people who have set up a maker space lab in Knox County and will discuss the concept with educators from Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Central Ohio Technical College and Mount Vernon City Schools.
Kenyon’s liberal arts education was transformative for Pryor-Jones. The Cleveland native was born to teenage parents, and only one uncle in her family had gone to college before her. She didn’t work with a personal computer until her first year at Kenyon, in the College’s computer lab.
“I didn’t have a lot of role models for people who had gone to college,” Pryor-Jones said. “Honestly, when I got to Kenyon, I struggled. I hadn’t been as prepared as I could have been, even though I went to a magnet school. That haunted me for a long time.”
Pryor-Jones majored in international studies and spent time studying in Zimbabwe. After graduation, she worked in higher education and then in the charter school movement. She served as the founding director for the Promise Neighborhood initiative at the Sisters of Charity Foundation and as the executive director for Northeast Ohio’s STEM Initiative at Case Western Reserve University. She also launched her own firm, Synchronicity Consulting.
She now believes her experience in education is having an impact on the maker movement. “I don’t believe in silver bullets,” she said. “Fab Labs are a part of a much larger portfolio of educational opportunities that students need. But with this, students can bring some joy and relevance to their own learning.”
When she first met officials from the Fab Foundation, there were only about 20 Fab Labs. Now there are about 1,000 Fab Labs in 80 countries that create a platform for fabricators, artists, scientists, engineers, educators and students. This year Pryor-Jones has traveled to China, Russia and many U.S. states to open Fab Labs and promote the maker movement.
The concept has a strong footprint in northeast Ohio: that region had the United States’ first Fab Lab in a community college and the nation’s first Fab Lab in a high school. Another lab opened at Cuyahoga Community College this summer.
“Fab Labs are a great equalizer. It doesn’t matter who your parents are or where you live, as long as you have access to technology. You can go in and make almost anything. It helps you with your confidence, it helps with team-building and it gives you important basic skills to get you on your way,” she said.