Daily Egyptian

Student provides space for technology

By Seth Richardson

Silicon Valley might soon come to southern Illinois, thanks to the efforts of one university student.

OpenSpace, a technology “do it yourself” center, officially opened March 22 in Murphysboro. The space provides anyone interested in technology with assistance, space and classes while providing a variety of hardware to work with.

William Blankenship, a senior from Springfield studying computer science and founder of OpenSpace, said he formed the space so people of all ages would have access to technology typically not found in the area.

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“Basically what we’re trying to establish is a place where we have hard to acquire resources and a surplus of knowledge from our members,” he said. “We gather all of these people in one place and they make really cool stuff… It’s kind of like a community center.”

OpenSpace is what is commonly known as a makerspace or hackerspace, a community workspace with open use of technology. It has a variety of donated hardware, including arduinos, Raspberry Pis, Google Glass and a 3D printer.

Operating on Murphysboro School District property, OpenSpace uses the 80-megabit Internet of the school district. Murphysboro Superintendent Chris Grode said he is an ardent supporter of the project and hopes it will help the area evolve technologically.

“Education of technology is probably one of the most important things we can do right now,” he said. “There are more tech jobs than there are any other jobs right now.”

Grode said he is interested in making technology classes at the space part of the curriculum, but is more excited about giving the kids the chance to work with the hardware. He said it would be some time before any curriculum changes happen, as it’s hard to define what a technology-based class is under Illinois regulations.

“But getting our kids in our electronics wing and our kids who are tech-savvy over to OpenSpace to learn the skills without credits is great anyway,” he said. “If we can figure out how to get a credit to the kids, that’s icing on the cake, but right now it’s a matter of letting them have the opportunity.”

OpenSpace costs the school district next to nothing, as it had an empty building it was not using but was paying to heat anyway, Grode said.

While OpenSpace operates on MSD property, membership is open to the public. Members pay either $10 monthly or $100 yearly for 24-hour access to the building. It operates as a nonprofit in Illinois, and Blankenship said he hopes to have federal nonprofit status by summer.

Blankenship said he formed OpenSpace because he was interested in technology as a child, but did not have access to the hardware. He said he spent hours copying and writing code for video games, but never had a place to actually create something.

“When I was a kid I was in Springfield, you just didn’t have (makerspaces) and I desperately wanted a place like this,” he said. “When I found out about these — it wasn’t too long ago — I thought it was an amazing idea and it sucked that there weren’t any around here.”

He said getting young children interested in technology is pivotal to the future and he wanted to help spur on curiosity.

“Anybody from the third-grader to the retiree who left the industry 20 years ago can work on this stuff,” he said. “To specialize in it requires time and discipline and so on and so forth just like anything else. But there’s not that barrier of entry like there used to be.

OpenSpace will also offer classes on a variety of tech-related subjects, he said. The first class is on April 26 and covers website development, with others on subjects such as 3D printing coming in the future.

Classes are open to the public for a $10 per class fee.

“We teach you how to use the software, teach you enough that you can go out and use this stuff yourself and then we give you access so that you can do that,” he said.

The space already has members in the double digits despite not advertising outside of a Facebook page. Ethan Richardson, a junior from Benton studying computer science, said he joined OpenSpace for a number of reasons.

“I just thought it would be a really good opportunity to sharpen my skills as a programmer, get involved with the community and try to get more people involved,” he said.

While OpenSpace is still in its infancy, Blankenship said he does hope to expand in the future once the Murphysboro space is stable.

For more information on OpenSpace, visit www.openspace.io.

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