Photo of Joe Bormann, who will lead the new innovation center at UW-Platteville

When the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s newest engineering building, Sesquicentennial Hall, opens next week, it will be home to one of the largest makerspaces in the Midwest – the Huff Family Innovation Center – and Joe Bormann, the center’s newly appointed director, is looking forward to fostering innovation, among both students and the business community, in Southwest Wisconsin.

With a background in technology education, Bormann brings nearly two decades of teaching experience to the position. For the past seven years, he has worked with at-risk youth in Dubuque, Iowa, as a technology education teacher at Dubuque Community School District’s Alternative Learning Center. There, in collaboration with the local business community, he helped the students imagine and develop a number of projects – from a gridless tiny house to a food truck.

“When a space is new and people haven’t toyed with it and people get in and learn its capacity, they realize the sky is the limit.”

“I am hoping to do more of that here,” said Bormann. “I want to unite the business community with our campus and educate and push for innovation here in Southwest Wisconsin.”

The Huff Family Innovation Center is uniquely poised to achieve this. Measuring nearly 20,000 square feet, the center offers tools and space for woodworking, metalworking, 3D printing, fabrication, robotics, textiles and vinyl and more.

“We’re set for the tinkerers and people who want to craft, create and develop concepts,” said Bormann. “But we also have the type of equipment that allows us to take in a project and prototype it from the business community, or local entrepreneurs or from those right here on campus. While you’ll find typical makerspace items like 3D printers, laser cutters and textile support and video production pieces, you’ll also find high-end Tormach mills for metalworking and machinery people generally don’t have access to – plasma cutters, full woodworking, an auto lift and paint booth. We also have an 11-ton hoist to bring in larger projects.”

Another asset, Bormann says, is the expertise that the professional staff in the center will bring. Tom Cabezas, Kelly Tollefson and Jeffrey Steiner will staff the center and share their knowledge in their respective specialties of woodworking and museum curation, CNC machining, tool and die making and more.

“They will bring the level of expertise to a point where we can engage in a lot of prototyping services and education,” said Bormann.

Bormann says he is looking forward to the hands-on opportunities the center will bring, which are critical for learning.

“I have a passion for education,” said Bormann. “I’ve been a leader in student organizations – whether robotics or ultimate mileage vehicle teams – and a lot of learning transcended through lab spaces and opportunities where people had a lot of knowledge where I didn’t. I was learning right along with them, whether students or professionals. I believe spaces like this are important for that. Less ‘sit and get’ and more learning through doing and learning with your hands. I believe that’s what this space does. My passion has always been in education, engaging people in different ways. When a space is new and people haven’t toyed with it and people get in and learn its capacity, they realize the sky is the limit.”

For more information about the Huff Family Innovation Center and how to be involved, visit The Sesquicentennial Hall Grand Opening event will take place on Thursday, Sept. 1, from 1-3 p.m. on the UW-Platteville campus.

Written by Alison Parkins

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