Allison Ricket, second from right, watches students at the BB2C Makerspace in Marietta work on stained glass projects.

It’s a beautiful July morning in Marietta, the kind of day most young people would sooner be anywhere than in a classroom. But the Building Bridges to Careers (BB2C) Makerspace is a hive of activity. High school students buzz around learning to make stained glass, create products on 3D printers, operate laser engravers, and do digital design.

Allison Ricket moves from room to room during this STEM Camp, asking students and instructors about their projects while thinking about how this model can spread throughout the region. Allison serves the role of pollinator within BB2C, working to create a regional network inspired by what’s happening in Washington County, but one that is deeply rooted in local communities. It’s one of the reasons she is Rural Action’s 2021 Sustainability Award winner in the Sustainable Partner category.

Students at the BB2C Makerspace learn 3D printing.

Connecting people is what Allison does. While she was a teacher at Athens High School, she and Rural Action’s Joe Brehm created a high school internship program that grew quickly thanks to collaboration with BB2C and Athens‐Meigs Educational Service Center.

“This is one of the best partnerships I have been a part of during my 11 years at Rural Action,” Joe Brehm says. “Each organization shares the common goal of supporting young people throughout the region as they navigate post‐high school academic and career paths. We have provided 70 students with paid internship opportunities in Appalachian Ohio since 2019, and career‐connected learning experiences for hundreds of others in the form of career days and job shadowing. Several of these students have found part‐time employment with their host sites, such as Burr Oak Getaways and Morris Hardware, following their internships.”

In her role as BB2C Network Director and Education Engagement Specialist, Allison continues to use her networking superpowers to benefit young people.

“We provide the local communities with the nuts and bolts, and they do it the way that works for them,” Allison explains. “We’re finding over and over again that the smaller communities don’t have the resources for grant writing and other tasks. That takes specific skills that we’re trying to build.”

As Allison puts it, “We’re constantly collaborating and providing connective tissue. The goal is to network systems so we’re not duplicating, we’re coordinating.”

The two-week STEM Camp that Washington and Nobel County students are attending at the Makerspace is just one of the many workshops occurring this summer. This one is happening through the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center, and it’s clear the students are enjoying the experience.

Instructor Tom Pralley shows a student how to work with stained glass.

Tom Pralley, who brings 16 years of experience to the stained glass room of the Makerspace, shows students how to make pieces of scrap glass fit together to form designs, then how to safely solder them in place, taking the proper precautions when working with the lead-based solder. In the digital design room, students talk excitedly about how anime inspires their work. While it’s the middle of summer break for many young people, these students are learning skills that could benefit them in myriad ways — and they’re having fun.

Businesses, communities, and educators interested in learning more about the BB2C Network can contact Allison for more information.

(This is part of a series of stories highlighting the winners of Rural Action’s 2021 Sustainability Awards. Learn how your neighbors are making our little corner of Appalachia an even better place.)

Meet the Award Recipients