Creating tools for change
Aaron Ragsdale, manager of the GSE Makery, has always been driven by a desire to create positive and powerful change.
That motivation was with him in seventh grade, when he decided his career path after reading that an engineer was someone who applied math and science to improve people’s quality of life. It pushed him to pursue his master’s in electrical engineering from Stanford in 2015, and it was what inspired him to lead the first-ever makerspace at East Palo Alto Academy High School before returning to the Farm to do similar work.
He credits his dedication to two things: his mother and the city where he was raised.
“Growing up in inner-city Chicago, where I witnessed the furthest extent of both success and struggle, I felt early on the desire to improve the lives of people,” says Ragsdale, who started managing the GSE Makery in 2019. “Having an educator for a mother, who instilled in me the importance of being service-minded, shaped my approach to education as a way to effect positive change.”
That approach translates into his work at the Makery, where he and his team of 17 Makery mentors provide the GSE community with both the figurative and literal tools necessary to explore hands-on learning within a creative space.
As manager of the Makery he hosts open hours, teaches two weekly project-based classes, creates resource guides and project ideas, facilitates professional development institutes for local in-service teachers, and leads workshops and community service projects, among other events.
“Our core mission is to equip students with skills so they see themselves as change makers, people who can design a better world,” Ragsdale said.
Some of the projects that have become the GSE Makery’s greatest hits among students include neon signs, charcuterie boards, candles and acrylic lamps, he says. A couple of his personal favorites have included wooden toys and puzzles he’s made for his nieces and nephews.
But the value of the Makery, he says, goes far beyond a plush sushi figurine or a cool T-shirt.
“Making can be restorative,” Ragsdale says. “The academic rigor of working at Stanford can be very draining, so having a space that can bring you joy is crucial. And making tangible things is inherently rewarding because it gives you a sense of accomplishment.”