The Daily Northwestern

Alumni launch studio to inspire youth self­-discovery

Michelle Kokes (left) and Alayna Rickard (right) create their own T-shirt during a session prior to the official opening of Hackstudio. The new Evanston business, which opened Monday, helps students in third through 12th grade pursue any creative project of their choosing.

Source: Lisa Degliantoni

Michelle Kokes (left) and Alayna Rickard (right) create their own T-shirt during a session prior to the official opening of Hackstudio. The new Evanston business, which opened Monday, helps students in third through 12th grade pursue any creative project of their choosing.

Mercy Yang, Reporter

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Before creating a new Evanston business designed to cultivate youth creativity, Randy Blaugh (Weinberg ‘91) had a career in finance. When Blaugh was a kid, he remembers entering an art project into a contest and receiving nothing but criticism. Adults told him to focus on academics instead of art.

Blaugh’s new business Hackstudio intends to foster creativity and leave students with different sorts of childhood memories.

Founded by Blaugh and another Northwestern alumnus, Hackstudio opened Monday in north Evanston, introducing an individualized learning space for students from 3rd to 12th grade to pursue any creative project they find meaningful.

“What attracted me was that ability… to really start at the beginning and try to reinvent learning in a way that really works for them,” Blaugh said.

Located in a 16,000-square-foot studio at 2510 Green Bay Road, Hackstudio provides the space, tools and mentoring for students to learn while celebrating both success and failure along the way.

Hackstudio, open weekdays from 4-9:30 p.m., is not a traditional after-school program in which students follow a curriculum taught by an expert. For two hours each week for about three months, students work individually as well as with a mentor and a group of peers.

“What we want them to do is to take the time to give themselves the permission to figure out what they’re interested in,” Hackstudio engagement director Lisa Degliantoni said.

In addition to an airy lounge, round tables spread around the room and cabinets full of crafting materials, Hackstudio includes a sound-proof dance studio and a woodshop.  A test kitchen and recording studio are also in the works. Among the nearly 50 students currently enrolled, projects include choreographing a dance, programming a tutoring app, building a finger skateboard ramp and baking original dog treats.

Alayna Rickard, a senior at New Trier High School in Winnetka, came to Hackstudio at the end of last year to participate in its preliminary program. With interests in clothing design, theater and painting, she eventually decided to create a gender-neutral clothing line and a website.

“(Hackstudio) helped me figure out my interests and narrow down what I want to do,” Rickard said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to school for design before Hackstudio, but now I know that’s the path I want to go down.”

Mike Meiners (Communication ‘96), Hackstudio’s co-founder and CEO, was inspired to start building the business in 2009 by his own breakthroughs in math through an architecture project.

Meiners said he believes people grow most when connected with their work. For instance, when Meiners’ son came home from kindergarten discouraged by his math homework, he used one of his son’s favorite games — a jigsaw puzzle — to help him understand arithmetic in a fun way.

“By pursuing something that he really cared about, you just run into the growth opportunity that you need,” he said.

Email: mercy@u.northwestern.edu

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