Rick Schertle has been a part of the MAKE community for years now. He’s authored projects, created a kit, and been to many a Maker Faire. To top it off, he’s an incredibly nice guy. When he’s not busy teaching a classroom of kids during his day job, he’s teaching kids the joy of making on his own time after work. He wrote a great little piece for us, introducing himself and telling the tale of how he got involved with MAKE. Here’s Rick in his own words.
Jack-of-all-trades and master of none. That pretty much describes my dad and I growing up. I’m thankful to have a dad who taught me to use tools and let me work alongside him. Now, that’s what I’m doing with my kids. We still haven’t become masters at much, but we’re having a lot of fun along the way!
My journey with MAKE began a few years ago, when a friend of mine (who happens to be a physics prof) thrust a copy of Volume 03 into my hands. The VCR Cat Feeder grabbed my attention. I thought, “what a silly, amazing, awesome gadget, but this magazine is for people much smarter than me.” After all, I’m just a middle school language arts and history teacher. But having specialized in fun growing up, the amusement factor of MAKE never wore off, and I began playing around with a design for a compressed air rocket launcher. A few ideas were out there on the internet and commercial launchers were available for hundreds of dollars, but the idea was fairly simple. Through a couple of prototypes and a failed water rocket project, I came up with a design that was durable, portable, and cost effective. The rockets went incredibly high and were so cheap to make. So I pitched the idea to MAKE Editor-in-Chief Mark Fraunfelder and he liked it!
A few months later, my project was in print (Volume 15) and I began a great relationship with an amazing community of people. About a year later, I found a way to make the project more portable and universal, and that’s where the kit came together. No other organization but MAKE would have given me a chance to try out a few to see how they would sell with very little risk. We put ten on the Maker Shed website and they sold out in less than a day. Then MAKE ordered 30 more and they quickly sold out. Now we were up to 100 and then eventually 500, to be delivered before Maker Faire a couple of years ago. Once you get to the 500 mark, it really begins to take over your house and life!
With the help of my son, daughter, wife, and friends, we lovingly hand-assembled each kit with boxes eventually piled to the ceiling of our dining room. I have no business background, so the process of sourcing the parts, assessing my profit margin, and building a production timeline was challenging but rewarding. As a family, we hitched a trailer to our mini van, then hand-delivered the kits to the MAKE headquarters two hours away, north of San Francisco. We received a royal welcome and when Dale Dougherty, publisher of MAKE and founder of Maker Faire, came out to help carry the kits in, I knew this really was a unique organization. With T-shirts and other goodies for the kids, exhausted, we headed happily home.
What I love about the MAKE movement is that it’s a learning culture, moving people from users and consumers to creators and makers. Plenty of school districts (including mine) have “life-long learner” in their mission statements, but how many are actually living it out? I see it loud and clear in the maker movement. Wood shop was always my favorite class in school, and while I didn’t choose to do it as a living, it has provided me with an awesome hobby. Now through my involvement with MAKE, I’m busting into electronics and even earned my MAKE robot badge along with my wife and kids. I’ve even got a welding class now on my to-do list.
Frustrated with the diminishing number of industrial and fine art classes in schools, I knew I wanted to do more to inspire this creativity in kids. Parents want it, kids want it, and soon society will begin to see the need for it again. So now I’m beginning to teach classes after school to small groups of elementary and middle school students. Offerings so far have included, of course, compressed air rockets and simple robots. In the future I hope to add more basic bots, soldering, and woodworking. As my dad inspired the maker in me as a kid and the maker movement has kept me going as an adult, I hope to help pass it on to the next generation as well.