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Bucks County Couple Donates $100,000 to Expand the Fab Lab

Bucks County residents Paul and Aarati Martino announced a personal donation to the Bucks County Foundation of $100,000 earmarked to support the Bucks Intermediate Unit Fab Lab Center. The Bucks IU Fab Lab in Ivyland focuses on science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) education programs for students throughout Bucks County and surrounding areas.

The Fab Lab is home to digital fabrication and computer science equipment paired with curricula for youth of all ages. It reached more than 3,000 children, from pre-K through 12th grade, last year with programs to interest students in STEAM topics, including computer science, engineering, and digital fabrication.

The Fab Lab’s programming includes after-school clubs, summer camps, ‘STEAM Saturday’ events, school field trips, and specialty programs for days when students are off from school. Professional development programs are also provided related to STEAM topics and resources, as well as teaching techniques for educators and administrators.

“We are grateful for this contribution from the Martinos and are excited to see Bucks County residents committed to the growth and expansion of STEAM education in the county,” said Mark Hoffman Ed, D., Bucks IU executive director.

“I’m thrilled to be able to support the program,” said Doylestown resident Paul Martino. “Both Aarati and I were computer geeks at very young ages. I started my first computer (game) company (AHPAH) in my bedroom in Lansdale at 14. So this has always been the stuff we’ve known and loved. We’ve gone out of our way to fund these kinds of programs.”

They’ve been involved in local STEM programs since they moved back to the Delaware Valley from California 15 years ago.

“That kid-like geek in the both of us is where this starts,” said Paul Martino.

Paul Martino has been involved in the technology and education fields for years as the managing partner of Bullpen Capital, a venture capital firm. He is also the chairperson of the Delaware Valley Science Fair, of which he is a student alum.

Aarati Martino, who holds master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in computer science and engineering and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, has spent over 20 years as a Google engineer. She has taught an enrichment program in the Central Bucks School District called “Google Magic” for several years.

“We’re looking to really get the center buzzing,” said Bucks IU Supervisor of STEAM Education Lindsey Rutherford Sides, Ed.D. “And eventually double our impact.” That would mean reaching more than 6,000 by the end of 2025.

Paul Martino said, “I am working with Lindsey just like I do with the CEOs in my portfolio companies at Bullpen Capital to work on this plan. It’s not just that Aarati and I have donated. I’m putting Lindsay in boot camp here to help her become the kind of CEO who can scale and grow an organization. And that, to me, is just as exciting as the money. She needs the resources. But we are teaming up to really grow the place, hire the people we need, and put together the operational plan. I’m very excited that we’re doing this.”

Sides said, “I think the most helpful part is the learning. We needed more of a business perspective. I think it’s just going to take us to tremendous places.”

Sides looks at it as “a boot camp for an MBA.”

Paul Martino said, “This is better than an actual degree. When the MBAs show up, God help the company. But when the people who learned it this way (come), we’re in good shape.”

“I’ve been following the Fab Lab since before COVID and have always appreciated its focus on STEAM education for students in Bucks County,” said Aarati Martino, who ran for a seat on the Central Bucks School Board last year. “I saw the amazing facilities in-person this summer and am thrilled that K-12 students have access to an impressive array of laser cutters, 3D printers, floor-to-ceiling sized hydroponic gardens, and many flavors of robots. I’m excited to help them bring their vision to even more students.”

Paul Martino said he envisions a world where the Fab Lab can serve tens of thousands through additional donations and contributions from local businesses that need STEAM graduates in their workforce.

“The Fab Lab is exciting to me because it started as a mobile van going to schools to teach kids about concepts using 3D printing and NextGen manufacturing. But they continue to think bigger. They’ve added a brick-and-mortar location and an additional van and now are reaching more students with significant programming. I foresee the Fab Lab even scaling up to multiple regions across the state. I want to applaud the Bucks IU for having such a forward-looking and entrepreneurial vision with this program and the courage to bring it to life.”

“We are hoping to do a couple of things with the generous donation from Paul and Aarati,” said Sides. “The Fab Lab opened its doors in December 2021, so we’re just coming up on two years running our program through the center. The center (is) a growth of our programs. We have a thriving mobile program in the county that visits schools for weeklong residencies.”

“Which is where this incredible donation helps us the most,” Sides said. “We’re going to be able to build our staff capacity a little bit, which will enable us to do more great programming for kids. Our goal and purpose are to provide exceptional out-of-school and in-school time via field trips. We know that STEM, or STEAM, computer science, whichever phrase you want to go with, is so important for kids. We see a real need for that programming. We’re excited to bring our program to the next level.”

Most of the kids involved in the Lab are in elementary and middle school, but the program is looking at offering high school students micro-credentialing (similar to being Excel certified).

Paul Martino said, “Having these kinds of credentials and skills is very important to Aarati and me. It’s something we’ve focused on for a long time. We love the way the IU has taken on this assignment.

“The vocational careers, getting these careers to kids at a young age, to show they have the skills they need is very, very important,” he said. “I’m super excited about them doing this kind of micro-credentialing for manufacturing skills.”

The state expects 590,000 new and replacement jobs through 2026, with STEAM jobs growing at over 9 percent. Over the next 10 years, more than 71 percent of all jobs will require computer science skills, with STEAM, health, and business majors earning higher salaries than other occupations. Also, research shows that STEAM instruction offers benefits in a student’s post-secondary career, even if that student does not pursue a STEAM career.

The Fab Lab plans to hold an open house this spring.

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