A little more in-depth.
In 1994 something magical happened. A diverse group of friends bonded at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. Despite the fact they came from radically different socioeconomic backgrounds they shared a love for exploration and creativity. Brought together by circumstance and the simple enjoyment of seeing How Things Worked, this group of college students gathered together in their off hours to tinker and explore. They scavenged the university surplus for parts, collected old computers, and built dozens of various projects together. They did this not for class credit (in fact some of the projects brought risk of expulsion, like exploring and mapping the steam tunnels under campus), but simply to explore, to learn, and to work together on building their projects.
The group of friends evolved into a small company. As a joke poking fun at one of their mentor’s companies they chose the name The Geek Group. They began sharing their projects with local school groups, shared their workshop with the public, and opened themselves up for membership. After a few years they becamse a federally certified 501(c)3 non-profit and things went from being a hobby, to a full-time job.
Today The Geek Group has grown beyond the wildest dreams of that original half-dozen nerds soldering circuits in a dorm room. With a diverse worldwide membership we are now in all 50 states and 36 other countries. The Geek Group is operating at a scale we never imagined and growing every day at an exponential rate thanks to our massive website, social networking, and hundreds of original educational videos broadcast on the web. What originally began as just lab-notes videos shot with a pocket camera has grown to a full soundstage with state of the art videography and viewership in the millions.
In 2006 we receive the donation of our Heavy Industries lab building. Because of the timeline involved in getting the facility donated we had actually outgrown the building before we moved in! The Geek Group has outgrown four separate buildings over the past 15 years and it’s current focus is to acquire a permanent main campus and create a large scale operation based on its unique business model. The Geek Group has grown up, and now wishes to take its operations from the small-town beginnings to a real city and share them on the world stage.
It is our wish to establish our main operations in the Grand Rapids area. The resources of a larger city and a larger market would allow the Group to operate at the scale it is meant to. We have proven beyond any doubts that the southwest michigan area would easily suport our operation at a scale orders of magnatude above what our limited building currently allows. It is our intention to build a National Science Center in the metropolitan Grand Rapids area with a designed capacity of roughly 350,000-500,000 visitors a year. This facility is to be named The Avalon Research Institute.
Imagine a facility that is a combination of NASA, MIT, and Mythbusters. A world class research and workshop area that is actually open to the public. That is the fundamental concept behind the Avalon Research Institute. It’s a place where real people, not just academics but anyone with a sincere and passionate desire to learn, can have access to the tools, materials, and guidance to help them explore the areas of science and technology that interest them. Unlike a traditional classroom environment people in The Geek Group can learn at their own pace, studying only the subjects that actually matter to them. The goal here is actual education and tangible results, not a diploma.
There are millions of people all over the world that have this passion. Most people have some area in science, engineering, or technology that is some some interest to them, yet it isn’t enough of an interest that they wish to have a full-fledged degree in it. Ask any 14 year old boy and he’ll probably tell you that Robots are “just plain awesome!” but that doesn’t mean he wants to get a masters in robotics engineering. Even if he did choose that as a career path, he would likely be in his third year before actually getting to work with a large-scale industrial robot even in just a lab setting.
At The Geek Group, that same 14 year old boy can walk in the door and immediately have access to one of our several massive robots. He can physically walk up and touch the machine, sit down and read the manuals, learn to program it, and use the robot as part of a project. It doesn’t have to be a useful or practical application. In fact, it could be something as simple as spending a week programming the robot to carve a pumpkin for Halloween. In our labs he is allowed the freedom to simply Play with this million-dollar machine, with proper guidance, safety precautions, and supervision. It’s not about getting a degree, it’s about exploring something for the sheer love of the technology.
The same robot can be used by another individual, imagine a 20 year old girl getting her masters degree in Robitics and Mechanical Engineering. At her home school she can only get an hour a week on the robot. At our labs she can work with the machine, learning the concepts of Inverse Kinematics into the small hours of the night, and sharing that curiosity and growth with her peers in the lab. This is what membership in The Geek Group is all about.
There is a world full of remarkable people, who are bored with the Paris Hiltons and the banality of their daily world. People of all ages who have a massive thirst to explore and create. It is the mission of The Geek Group to fill this need by providing not only the facilities and tools, but the peer group and comradarie as well. This is a place where it doesn’t matter how you dress, what your social clique is, who you pray to, what colour your skin is, or who you chose to love. The letters and degrees mean nothing here, and age is irrelevent. Here we are free to be judged only by the content of our character, and concepts like Logic, Reason, Ethics, and Common Sense reign supreme. We have proven countless times that if you give people the opportunity to be self-responsible that they will impress you in ways never imagined. This is the exact opposite of most high-school environments.
The Geek Group welcomes non-members as well. With the creation of Avalon we will be able to open our doors to the general public on a large scale. How many times have you seen something in a store or on television and thought “I could have done that!”? How many great ideas have you had for some kind of invention only to let it vanish from your memory because “there’s no way I could do something like that”? The Geek Group is a place where you can.
Average everyday people have fantastic ideas all the time. The problem is they lack the resources of a large-scale design and engineering facility. Avalon is specificly designed to be a place where you can walk in the door with nothing more than an idea, and with the help of our mentorship, guidance, resources, materials and tools you can walk out a few months later with a prototype in your hand. We can even help you get in contact with the right people to take that prototype and produce it on a large scale in a manufacturing environment to share your product with the world.
In addition to our membership and the general public, The Geek Group is a powerful resource for traditional schools and higher-education facilities. We offer school group demonstrations in a manner never before attempted anywhere in the world.
When you were in grade school you probably paid a visit to the local museum. You had a lot of fun and probably learned a thing or two, but nothing of any real relevance to the day-to-day curriculum in your classroom back home. Traditional museums and science centers around the world all operate this way. They have canned demonstrations and exhibits based on the “lowest common denominator” system. The Geek Group takes a radical approach and embraces the individuality of the teachers and their classrooms instead.
Let’s imagine that you’re a science teacher in a local middle school. You contact us to book your event. During the initial call we ask the size and age of your audience. For the purposes of this demonstration let’s say you have two classrooms of 8th graders (that’s about 60 students). We also have you provide us with a copy of your textbook, having marked the chapter you’re currently teaching. Let’s pick a common topic and say you’re currently working on Electricity and Magnetism. You send us a copy of your textbook and in we schedule a one-hour block 3 weeks into the future.
In the traditional classroom environment you would commonly teach the basics of electricity and Magnetism with a flashlight bulb, a few bits of wire and some D-Cells. Perhaps if the students were lucky they could each get to assemble a simple circuit with a battery and a small electric motor. Small, simple tabletop demonstrations are about the limit of the typical public school environment.
Now it’s a few weeks later and you arrive at The Geek Group. Here we can demonstrate the incredible wonder of electricity in a much more dynamic manner, by blasting 20 foot long lightning bolts across the room. We can demonstrate Current by turning an everyday pop can into a fuse and push 250,000,000 Watts of power though it causing it to absorb so much energy that most of it actually evaporates in a thunderous explosion (we call this Project Thumper). It is through demonstrations like this that a Scoutmaster once remarked to us that we “are the only place in the world that can maintain the rapt attention of a hundred twelve-year-old boys for over an hour straight”.
It’s demonstrations like Gemini (our lightning generator) and Thumper (our impulse generator) that make The Geek Group a highly sought after resource for the public schools. We’re not here to replace traditional classroom learning, but to enhance it as an augmentational and supportive teaching resource. This is precisely why The Geek Group has never sought to become accredited as a traditional school. We’re not in the business of handing out diplomas, we’re in the business of handing out resources.
It’s the resources that are key. There is no public school in the world that can justify having a room the size of a gymnasium just to house a lightning generator. The massive expense, critical safety requirements, and operational costs of not only the machine itself but the trained engineering staff to operate and maintain it are well beyond the resources of any public school. These people have to work night and day just to get enough funding to have lunch and textbooks, they’re not building lightning machines anytime soon. The Geek Group’s Avalon Research Institute fills this, and thousands of other gaps in the educational system.
The past fifteen years have seen us though a great deal. We’ve had our ups and downs, made the mistakes of any fledgling company, and learned things we never imagined we’d need to in order to build this dream. Now we’re at a new turning point in our history. In a time when the economy is circling the drain and the Michigan unemployment rate is at levels that haven’t been seen since the Great Depression, The Geek Group is expanding and growing at a rate we never imagined. People are hungry to better themselves, to learn, and to become self sufficient. Never before has this been so obvious as in this time of economic stress.
Because the Geek shall inherit the Earth.