The Innovation Lab: the hidden gem of Lake Land College

Kaitlyn Bloemer, Photographer and Reporter

When you think of Lake Land College, what comes to mind? Many students and citizens of Lake Land’s district may say the Agriculture program, the athletic programs or the scholarship opportunities, just to name a few. However, when asked this question, I think of some of the amazing and unique classes Lake Land offers, and the fantastic staff that goes along with them. There is a hidden gem among campus, and that is the Innovation Lab. Taught by Scott Rhine, the classes offered in this space goes above and beyond to promote an exciting, open and creative classroom experience. 

If you are looking for a teacher who is passionate about what he is teaching, Mr. Rhine is the way to go. By his third day at Lake Land, he was already working on creating new programs, such as a networking program, and was throwing out new ideas. In a year, he had added six more classes to his repertoire. Not only does he consider himself a professor, he is a troubleshooter, psychiatrist and most of all, a cheerleader for his students. He expressed that one of his favorite parts of teaching was seeing the students and watching them grow and unlock new talents and ideas they did not know they possessed. Plus, this guy knows how to be creative and how to spark new ideas. When he was young, he was always tearing things apart and exploring how they worked. Years later, he has done so many different projects, such as a PVC pipe t-shirt cannon, that he and the Home Depot employees are on a name to name basis. In fact, he was working on a project as we spoke, and it is a well-known fact that he puts this same passion and energy into his classroom. 

The history of the Innovation classes is an interesting one. Before they were offered, Mr. Rhine and his IT Club were busy at work being innovative on their own time. “I considered what we were doing as a recess for geeks,” he said. They were producing projects, such as a racing simulator based simply off a brand-new steering wheel, quite often. At some point, someone floated the idea of taking that concept of just designing cool things, and turning it into a class. Of course, Mr. Rhine loved the idea, and after a lot of time spent figuring out the specifics of the class, it became offered at LLC. The concept of the class is simple and open to anyone. “When a student walks in, I assume they know nothing.” said Scott. This way, students at any level can learn in the class. Mr. Rhine spends the first half of the class teaching the fundamentals of how to produce the projects, and the second half letting the students work and be creative.  “My biggest goal of the class is to change my student’s mentality and mold it into a maker’s mentality.”

In the early stages of the Innovation classes, Mr. Rhine was storing most of his materials in storage containers in the corner of his room. “It was kind of funny, because when I wanted to show my students something, I would tell them ‘Here, let’s go look inside of this box.’” With the number of tools and technology used in his class, there was a need for a new space to let the students work. Thus, the Innovation Lab was born. “The Innovation lab is really there to support the class,” Scott said. “Lots of times, people just have an idea, and then look on Amazon and try to find it pre-made. I want to show my students that when they need something, they can probably just make it.” Looking into the lab, one can see that the class is doing just that. The room is filled with different and unique projects and different tools to produce them, such as 3D printers. The students in this lab are looking to take materials and use them for its unintended purpose. Mr. Rhine spoke about how he wants to spark students to be creative and put their wildest dreams into reality. “During one of my classes, I put the quote ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…’ on a screen. Then, my students and I fill in the blanks. I like to learn about my students and what makes them tick. Once I figure out what they’re interested in, we can usually figure out a really cool project for them.” Mr. Rhine knows that his students can accomplish whatever they put their energy into. In the lab, he encourages students to think about what they can do, and then add 25 percent more on top of that. Someone going into these classes should definitely expect to be pushed to their limits and love every minute of it. 

The Innovation Lab not only benefits the students who inhabit it, but the community as well. “I had a student at one time who was missing the lower part of his arm, so we made a prosthetic for him,” said Rhine. “After that, we put out there that we could make prosthetic fingers in the lab as well, and we had a line out the door for that.” On top of that, Mr. Rhine and his students have also produced insulin needle holders for those who needed them. “At the time we sent a message out to all the local school districts asking if there was anyone who might need them, and we turned around and produced it for them” According to Scott, being able to give back to the community in this way is just the gravy on top of being able to offer such a unique class. 

While some projects are for the community, some are just for fun. Mr. Rhine spoke about a couple of his favorite ideas that have been pushed out of the Lab in the past few years. “I had one student who figured out how to make a replica lightsaber. It was so cool that a couple of other students replicated it and I eventually… had one made for myself.” Another cool moment in the lab was when Mr. Rhine and his students developed a gigantic touch tablet, a couple of years before the first iPad came out. “We tend to be on the bleeding edge of technology,” said Mr. Rhine

Although teaching such a hands on class in a virtual environment can present some difficulties, Scott Rhine is excited for the future of the Lab and the classes it holds. “The Lab is almost like Pompeii right now. Everything is left just how it was when lockdown started almost a year ago. Right before we went on the extended spring break we got this really cool resin 3D printer. I got it all set up right before, and we haven’t gotten to use it yet, so I’m ready to see what that can do,” said Rhine. Most of all, Mr. Rhine is ready to interact with his students in the future. “When we are in the lab, students would stay after to ask questions or just talk for a couple minutes about whatever is happening in their lives. That’s something you just do not get in a virtual environment.”

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