Interview: FabLab manager Nuria Robles
We took the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, 2023 as an opportunity to talk to Nuria about her work in the FabLab, the importance of international networking and the fun of designing.
The FabLab Leon was founded in 2011. Young people from all over the world can try out various programs here, get to know digital production methods and, above all, the maker philosophy. Nuria Robles has been in charge of the FabLab since 2012. She says about herself: "According to my degree, I'm a mechanical engineer, but actually I'm a full-time creator!"
The FabLab León is part of the initiative shemakes, in which people, MakerSpaces and companies come together on an international level. Workshops for all age groups are offered in various learning paths, some of which are also the responsibility of the FabLab León. Gurus and ambassadors increase visibility. The common goal is to improve the skills, self-confidence and general position of women in the textile industry. The initiative is funded by the European Union.
The interview with Nuria Robles was conducted in English and is translated into German here.
Nuria, tell us about your background: how does a mechanical engineer get into the FabLab?
I worked as an engineer in a company for 15 years. As I became a mother, I realized more and more that I wanted to work in education and with children. I wanted to create opportunities for my children and other children to develop and become better people. When I came into contact with the FabLab scene through the MIT (Massachuetts Institute of Technology) Center for Bits and Atoms, it was clear: This is the perfect tool to bring technology closer to young people and prepare them for the future. This is how the FabLab León came about.
For me, at its core, a FabLab is a place that helps you understand things by creating them yourself. You can work independently and self-determined there: In the FabLab, people are taught the skills they need to turn their ideas into reality. This is why so many innovative inventions are created in FabLabs, because you can experiment without restrictions and also implement crazy ideas.
Among other things, you are responsible for the Ponderosas project in the FabLab. What's it all about?
"Ponderosas" means "strong girls". I started the project because I noticed that only boys came to the FabLab, not girls. So I grabbed my niece and worked with her in the lab to make clothes for her dolls. We digitally created the designs for the dresses and then cut them out with the laser cutter. It was a very special moment when I could see the enthusiasm for the technology growing in their eyes. My niece then proudly presented the dresses to her friends and shared them on social media. Girls of the same age could see: "Wow, that's possible? Can I do that too?”. Word got around and one girl became two, then three. And now, five years later, we have 50-60 Ponderosas that come to the FabLab regularly.
I think girls need role models of their own age. It is also important to give women scientists, CEOs and others visibility and to recognize their achievements. For a young girl who doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up, these women are too far away. People of the same age can motivate and inspire each other very well. This was shown with the "Ponderosas".
You and the FabLab León are part of the shemakes network. What is this network and what advantages does it offer?
León is a rather small city, so it was a great opportunity for us to open this small city to the whole world, to take part in international projects and to exchange knowledge. That's the FabLab deal: we understand things and we build things, and then we make them open source. In this way, we in turn contribute to the knowledge and understanding of others. Everyone has the opportunity to repeat our projects themselves. Shemakes is primarily about bringing technology and textiles together and empowering women in the textile and fashion industry. Learning and further training plays a very important role in this. There are different learning paths, our FabLab covers the path of curiosity for the age groups from eight to 18 years.
There are also extraordinary opportunities: Of the four shemakes ambassadors we have at the FabLab, three are "ponderosas" girls. As ambassadors, they can travel to one of the shemakes transfer labs located around the world. There they not only find like-minded people, but also learn a lot about other cultures and values, but also about themselves.
How do you think FabLabs like yours contribute to a more sustainable future?
As innovation or research laboratories, FabLabs offer people the opportunity to realize their very own ideas. For example, many who come to us have no idea how to use a 3D printer. We're happy to teach them. We're also looking at new materials a lot, like "organic leather," which is a recyclable, leather-like fabric that we can 3D print. We also deal with bio-dyes, i.e. environmentally friendly dyes. So we contribute to sustainability in two ways: on the one hand, by promoting the development of new and sustainable materials, and on the other hand, by giving people the knowledge and skills to work on and with these materials.
You can find more empowering stories by and about women in the STEM field on our Topic Page to the zdi heroines: