Executive Director - Jason "Digi" Allen
Allen has extensive experience in both the operations and marketing sides of small businesses, and also has a history of technical innovation, specifically around the use of CNC machines and 3D printers for custom sign-making and prototyping. Allen also has a natural talent for communicating vision, building partnerships, and facilitating structural innovation. This document will highlight some of his accomplishments during two and a half years working with an innovative, project-based high school program in Fayette County.
Allen is the creator of a framework for innovation called the 5 P’s: Proposal, Pattern-Making, Prototyping, Production, and Presentation. These 5 steps guide students through the phases of innovative projects, beginning with research and cost-analysis, passing through an iterative cycle of design and testing, and resulting in a final deliverable that is made available to the community.
Allen is also a pioneer of community-engaged learning, which gives students motivated problems from the community they are embedded in, supports students with community resources and mentorships, and engages community members in the education of the next generation.
Finally, Allen has pioneered new models of student leadership and teamwork, encouraging specialization within project teams, cross-project support roles, and high levels of student responsibility.
While working with The Learning Center, a local high school, Allen drove a number of key structural changes that led to high levels of student achievement, and were marked by several milestone events.
First, Allen advocated the reorganization of the school into departments based on the form of their end product. He headed the “Department of Innovation” which taught math, engineering, and science skills in the context of “making”. The Department of Innovation was manifested as a series of co-located classrooms that facilitated different phases in the innovation process. The pattern-making room was a computer lab with software for 3D design and other work. The prototyping room held 3D printers, electronics kits, and other tools. The production room consisted of woodworking tools including CNC routers, vinyl plotter, and foamsmithing tools.
Second, Allen created a community of individual and corporate responsibility by connecting student activity and roles directly to the completion of projects. Each room had an appointed student manager who was responsible for the well-being and maintenance of the equipment, and who facilitated (through peer instruction) the work of their classmates. Students were also encouraged to form teams during the project proposal stage, and their ability to receive resources and supplies was dependent on their consideration of what each person would have to learn in order to make the project a success.
Third, Allen drove community engagement and student accountability through several showcases spaced throughout the year. At these showcases, community members were invited to see the projects students had worked on and to bring their own displays for students to see. During the last year, showcased projects included custom-made costumes and props, a student-built 3D platformer video game, a student-run comic book, a photography exhibit, a complete set of apiary equipment, musical compositions, a wall-climbing robot, 3D character models, and Raspberry-Pi-powered sensor systems.
Acquired Donations and Partnerships:
Allen has a knack for finding ways that people can benefit each other and for communicating vision. While working with the local school, he was able to bring donated or loaned 3D printers, CNC machines, tools and storage cabinets, computers, high-speed internet, Computer-Aided Design software, use of 3D model-checking service, instructor and mentor time, and internship opportunities for students.
At one student showcase, Allen was able to bring in the University of Kentucky Solar Car Team, a group of community engineers, and a representative from Microsoft. Allen also engaged students in his own artistic and product development work, including a custom “Ectomobile” for the local “Ghostbusters” and Minds Across Time, a Collectible Trading Card Game for middle school students. Allen also engaged students in local outreach and presentation.
Allen has a unique background of technical and cultural innovation centered on the creation of collaborative spaces for community-focused projects and education. His previous accomplishments speak not only to his expertise with high-tech tools, but also to his expertise in human relationships and teamwork.