Willie and Nelson, Co-Founders of Wynwood Maker Camp impacted the lives of over 60 students in Miami. Their goal to make these young people ages 8-16 life long hackers payed off and has left them with the desire to continue their journey of ED innovation. They have inspired us with their with their badass selves – we think they will have the same effect on you.
Our City Thoughts: Why did you create in Miami?
Willie: Miami is our hometown, and we both know how much education developing needs to happen to foster future talent that will help grow the “new Miami” as we are trying to do so.
Nelson: We created Wynwood Maker Camp in Miami because it is our hometown and it is important to give back to the community. This is an opportunity to jump start a child’s curiosity and passion for learning. We hope that it translates into a life long journey of exploration and experimentation into solving the issues we have at home and around the world.
OCT: What does your org do? How was it founded?
W: Wynwood Maker Camp is a 10-week summer camp for children ages 8-16, focused on getting students excited about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, Math) by building, making, and experimenting in student-led sessions that culminate with a presentation of a project they thought out and developed.
N: Wynwood Maker Camp began as an idea to bring a summer program to The LAB Miami. We wanted to introduce children to the new startup environment. We then aligned ourselves with MIAMade to integrate a maker curriculum into the camp. With the support of the startup community, The LAB Miami, MIAMade, the Knight Foundation, Awesome Foundation and the maker community, we were able to make a program that impacted over 60 students throughout the summer.
OCT: Were there any obstacles along the way?
W: Aside from the challenge of having the students in the first session breeze through the originally planned curriculum in three days, we were temporarily halted from using our most-used device in the camp – our MakerBot.
When we introduced 3D printing to our students, they were stunned and amazed at the possibilities. I also broke our build plate by accident and thought everyone’s projects were done for. Nelson and I then ingeniously hacked together a solution, making the printer print its own band-aid to hold together the build plate and to allow for some space for future prints.
It worked out and we saved the projects for that session and the students saw how some hacking can really solve tough problems.
N: We faced a challenge very early on during the first session of the camp. We had a curriculum planned for the two weeks and the kids went through the entire process within 3 days. A failure on our part to understand the dynamics of how hungry these kids were to learn and make.
With failure, comes insight. We became creative and brainstormed new topics that we could teach them. This allowed us to explore the concept of student-led learning where we used the natural curiosity and motivation of our students to drive the education and fun. Our workload increased to meet this new style head on, but the kids were so much happier.
OCT: How did you two end up collaborating?
W: Funny enough, it started off as a simple conversation. We both wanted to impact education in some way and Nelson asks me one day in January, “Hey want to build a summer camp?” and we took it and ran with it.
N: What’s great about this little story is that this would not have happened if it were not for the environment we were in. The LAB Miami has developed a culture of collaboration within its members. With every new collision of ideas, there is the possibility of collaboration and creation to solve new problem. It’s an exciting time to be in Miami.
OCT: What does your team mean to you?
N: Having a team means that we are able to share our domain expertise and learn from each other. I don’t have the answer to every question and it becomes an advantage to be able to source different opinions from the people you trust in the organization. Having a good team that understands the mission and is passionate about achieving it is hard to come by.
W: Having a great co-founder is one of the most important things to the success of any company you start. Someone who sees eye to eye with you, but challenges you to be better and helps you see the other side on issues is key. You build a special bond with that person where you almost end up finishing each others sentences. Nelson re-inspired me to do what i care about doing, leaving a special impact on my hometown.
OCT: How has Miami impacted who you are today?
W: Miami has had a huge impact on my development and on who I am today. When I lived in New York, everyone had said that I distinctly had a Miami accent, and I wouldn’t come to realize what that was until returning. It’s a subtropical twang that’s perfectly descriptive of the Miami lifestyle: entrepreneurial, exotic, experimental, and extremely rooted in family values.
N: Being the son of two immigrants, my parents have taught me that hard work and passion in what you do will bring about success. When I see Miami, I see a city of hard working, passionate people wanting to achieve the American Dream. This has impacted me in a profound way. I’m convinced that through the educational efforts we are putting forth today, we will be able to open up many more opportunities for people to reach their dreams and define their success.
OCT: What do you love the most about how miami is being redefined?
W: After being in such an established and ever-changing place like New York, Miami is at a fun point in its brief history for me. Miami, for all its connotation as a party city and a transient place, is a new “American Wild West” for the new generation of creative and intelligent individuals. It’s an incredibly refreshing sentiment, and to see Miami truly as breeding ground for these new ideas and medium in technology and art, it makes me feel proud to be contributing to the future of my home.
N: Miami is at an interesting point in its evolution as a city. Outsiders may look at Miami and think that it’s a place to vacation and have a good time, but the residents I know want to make it a better place to start a business, grow a family, and enjoy their lives. Right now is that time in the story where we can influence the way people will come to perceive us. Are we the party town of the past, or are we the city of the future? The future looks bright to me.
OCT: Describe an innovation advancement you are working on?
N: We are working on a curriculum that will be used as the foundation for an afterschool and weekend. The curriculum will feature problem solving, design thinking, computational thinking, 3D modeling & printing, programming and communication skills. We believe these skills will be foundational in the next 5 to 10 years and are severely lacking in the traditional school setting.
W: We are flipping the classroom and allowing students in our pivoted afterschool and weekend workshops, and allowing the students to be the leaders of the space and use the exploratory methods that we tried out throughout the camp, and recontextualize it to help guide the students through the new foundations of the future while allowing them to develop a project from start to a marketable prototype stage.
OCT: What’s the most gratifying aspect of what you do? And the most grating?
N: The most gratifying aspect of what I do is being able to share everything I’ve learned with children who are just now experiencing the world. I hope they learn to be curious about how the world works and be an active participant in helping solve its problems.
W: Sharing my ever-growing knowledge is hugely gratifying, however, what really grabs me are the student’s faces while they are building something, and when they are presenting what they’ve made to other students and to their parents, is unlike anything else. To see the passion and joy in their faces as they showing them that they built their respective projects, and it was all a product of their hard work, is by far the most gratifying aspect to what the camp strives to develop: passionate, creative future change-makers.
OCT: What wisdom would you share with your younger self ?
N: I would tell my younger self the numbers to the lottery. Haha. On a more serious note, I would tell myself to focus on the fields of Mathematics and Physics. Those two fields have been my passion and it’s been difficult to get back into them because of time constraints.
W: I would definitely tell my younger self to bet all of your tutoring money on the Giants beating the perfect season Patriots in 2007 (zing!) I would also tell younger, entrepreneurial self to keep going with every odd ball project that may seem to not have a light at the end of the tunnel. Not only to learn to be persistent with some projects and ideas, but that in turn, new opportunities will develop from staying persistent, and having the drive and passion to do what matters to you.
OCT: What community issue keeps you up at night?
N: The most pressing community issue that keeps me up at night is the changing labor market and its affect on the local community. In Miami right now there are jobs that are not being filled because of a mismatch of skills that the current labor force does not have. Our program is a response to the changing economy by providing an environment to children that fosters the necessary 21st century skills to be successful in the future.
W: The most pressing issue, and one that I was a victim and culprit of, was the immense brain drain that Miami has had over several years. How Miami can develop some brilliant minds, and due to a lack of resources, communities that were not developed to help foster the growth of these minds, and let these changemakers leave and not make Miami better. The lack of a talent pipeline has a huge problem before, but this issue is being addressed little by little to the point where some of these Miami changemakers who have left once, are returning to change their old home.
OCT: Describe your ideal Miami. Why are those qualities important to you?
N: My ideal Miami would be a region rich with culture and opportunity. A place where my friends and family can call home and live a life of purpose. These qualities are important to me because its a recipe for how we can live a good life. Culture allows us to appreciate where we come from. Opportunity allows us to dream about where we may be going. Mindful, that these ideals are constantly changing as we explore this wonderful gift called life.
W: My ideal Miami is a new metropolis that no one has ever seen before. Miami being a mixture of what every other worldly city has had to offer, with the rich flavor that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. A city dominated by the brilliant, creative, and innovative leaders supported by the large public and private groups interested in developing the welfare of the city and developing open spaces and open opportunities for truly innovative work in all sectors. Miami is on the precipice of being true cosmopolitan, but it takes real effort on all fronts to make this absolutely
Nelson Milian was born of two Cuban immigrant parents in Hialeah, Florida on May 15th, 1985. As a child growing up he got involved in the Boy Scouts of America and received the highest ranking possible, the Eagle Scout award. Around the same time the internet was just starting to mature and he got involved into its growth creating his first website about StarCraft in 1998. Having been self-taught in information technology, he was able to get an internship with the Miami-Dade Airport IT department from 2000 – 2003. Upon graduating from high school, he went to ITT-Tech in Miami and graduated with a degree in Computer Networking. In 2006, he went back to school to get a university degree and graduated in 2010 with a B.A. in Management Information Systems.
After college, he started his own IT consulting business to help small business reduce their growing infrastructure costs. In 2012 he partnered up with a college friend to start a new business in social media to help small business manage the complexity of their internet marketing. By circumstance in early 2013, he landed at The LAB Miami and became one of their founding members. He became very involved in the growing tech startup community. Towards the end of 2013 he co-founded the Wynwood Maker Camp with LAB Miami members to put forward a technology summer camp for kids in hopes of inspiring them into STEM disciplines. In summer 2014, the Wynwood Maker Camp was run at The LAB Miami and was a total success. He is now a candidate for Florida State Representative in Hialeah / Miami Lakes to bring fresh new ideas to government.
Willie Avendano was born of Colombian and Chilean immigrants in North Miami, Florida. Growing up, he had a passion for helping his community. He worked with several programs instituting SAT education for underprivileged students in North Miami. Upon graduating from MAST Academy in 2008, he went on to Columbia University and graduated with a B.S. in Operations Research and Computer Science, where while in school, he co-founded two start-up companies with future New York VCs.
After college, he continued to his entrepreneurial and artistic endeavours through creative technological means. In 2012, he helped develop the burgeoning community of The LAB Miami and contributed to the Miami tech community at-large. He became the Hacker and Tinkerer in Residence and began the prototype for the first Ruby on Rails bootcamp in Miami and it is then when he realized to focus efforts towards the improvement of education in South Florida. Near the end of 2013, he co-founded the Wynwood Maker Camp to put a stamp of innovation education and project-based learning through STEAM disciplines, the DIY aesthetic and the learn-by-doing methodology. He has also had his contemporary artwork and video installations shown in Miami, Philadelphia, and New York.