There are many threads that make up the fabric of the Acara Institute. We’ll be doing some interviews and summaries as we go along to introduce them to you. This post is about Steve Jevning, founder and executive director of Leonardo’s Basement in Minneapolis. Steve is one of the three charter board members of Acara and is leading the high school pilot program for the Acara Challenge.

There was a nice article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, about an offshoot of Leonardo’s, called Studio Bricolage. Basically Studio Bricolage does for adults, what Leonardo’s does for kids, let them go off and invent.

I am reprinting (from my previous blog on below an interview I did in 2006 with Steve. I have collaborated with Steve for 10 years on a number of K-12 programs, but mostly around First Lego League.

Here is the interview:

Hi Steve, tell me a little about Leonardo s Basement?
Leonardo’s Basement is an after school and summer program for girls and boys ages 6-16 who like to build projects. We are interested in helping kids learn the process of designing, building and experimenting as they create projects using real tools and materials in our workshop.

What opportunities for kids do you have this summer at Leonardo’s Basement?

We offer over 50 different week long half-day classes. Topics include Exploding and imploding, Go karts, Medieval physics and of course, Lego robotics. Classes are very small (8-9 kids) and they have filled very quickly this summer. Readers should check our web site for a complete list of classes and availability. It is important to get on our mailing list for a better chance of getting into popular classes next summer.

Why did you start Leonardo’s Basement?

A group of parents and started Leonardo’s Basement when they realized that all of their children wanted to do more science than they were doing in school. They wanted to do experiments, go on field trips, build inventions and other cool projects. We knew that kids have limitless ideas and just needed a place to muck around, learning technical skills from adults who wanted to help them realize their dreams.

How do you find volunteers for your organization?

A first we had to work very hard to find volunteers and skilled instructors. Now, fortunately, a lot of them find us. We are always looking for people to help connect us with interesting building materials and people who remember what it was like to be a kid creative, enthusiastic, playful and willing to try anything and learn from making mistakes.
Of the things that you do at Leonardo’s Basement, what do you think is most effective? The most fun?
We are best at helping kids move from where they are to where they want to go in terms of developing ideas that are screaming to get out of their heads: invention, creative problem-solving, gaining confidence that anything is possible. Adult volunteers and instructors have almost as much fun as kids because they get to use ideas from the kids to generate new project and class ideas. We have a very informal environment they encourages playful interactions of art, science and technology between young people and adults.

What are a couple of your favorite books?

I am a very slow reader with an even shorter attention span so each month I read a bunch of magazines including Scientific American, Popular Science, Technology Review, Nuts and Volts and a great new quarterly called Make.

What was an unusual or fun job you had in the past?

When I was 18-years-old my parents bought a lot on a lake in northern Minnesota. I knew a little bit about carpentry and they allowed me to design and build a cabin using only hand tools. It led to lifelong fascination with building for myself and for and with others.
If you had a million dollars to spend for Leonardo’s Basement, what would you do? {Note, I think Steve is still looking for this million dollars!}

Our current challenge is to better integrate technology into our program for middle school students. We would move to a larger space, perhaps 10,000 sq. ft., and add two rooms, one for woodworking and one for metalworking. We would teach girls and boys how to using milling and prototyping machines. We would also develop a year round robotics program that would encourage kids to build purposeful robots like in Lego League but also whimsical contraptions that make both builders and observers smile.