UIX: Lis Bokt and The Geek Group combine inspiration, innovation, and perspiration

Whether it’s engineering know-how, mechanical prowess, educational opportunities, or simply making creative ideas manifest, it’s hard to say The Geek Group excels at simply one thing. The group is constantly adding equipment and tools to help students and members of many ages learn, experiment, and create.

“Diversity is definitely our strong suit,” says Lis Bokt, executive director of The Geek Group.

Bokt helps with operations and administration, and her own interests are just as varied as the Geek Group. She comes from a scientific background in astrophysics, linguistics, computer aided design, and machining, and creative pursuits of photography, watercolors, and graphic design.
Founded 21 years ago at its 902 Leonard St. NW location in Grand Rapids’ West Side neighborhood, The Geek Group offers visitors several fully stocked workshops, labs, and other resources. Members may come to work on personal projects, learn how to use specific tools or equipment, attend classes or even watch a live broadcast online.
The woodshop is equipped with saws, planers, jointers, sanders, and more clamps than a single person would ever need. The vehicular sciences lab boasts a hoist, engine lift, torque wrenches, and a large press. The Geek Group’s machine shop is outfitted with Haas CNC machines and all major auxiliary equipment. The rapid prototyping lab offers six Afinia 3D printers, a 3D scanner, and circuit board mill. The electronics lab is complete with diodes, resistors, capacitors, a prototype circuit board mill, and plenty of wire. And of course, The Geek Group offers CAD workstations and computer labs at nearly every turn to facilitate projects.
With such machinery, the Geek Group is not without sufficient safety procedures, Bokt says.

“With some of the equipment, people must use them under constant supervision, and with the more common tools it’s a one-time demonstration of how to properly use them,” Bokt says.

Given a member knows which end of the hammer to pick up, the speed at which they can get through a project depends on skill level and experience. All that’s asked outside of that is patience and the willingness to ask questions and be open to learning new things.

Classes and workshops or general lab or shop time is facilitated with the help of over 20 differently specialized staff members. The Geek Group's offerings help supplement and lead students as young as middle schoolers through STEM {science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) career objectives, but membership is often purchased by individual adults, company sponsored groups, and even families looking to use the many Geek Group labs.

Bokt says much of the funding for the Geek Group comes from membership fees, but grants and several dozen sponsors emphasizing different concentrations offset costs, too. Just inside the front door is the Geek Group’s gift shop, where member inspired and made wares are sold as well.

Those qualified for admittance into the high voltage lab can work with Geek Group founder Chris Boden. With a background in high voltage and high energy physics and electrical engineering, when Boden isn’t building the area’s largest Tesla coils, he can use the lab’s powerful setup to generate and send more voltage than a bolt of lightning through a quarter, among other extremely powerful and similarly dangerous experiments.

Boden sees the Geek Group’s role in the community as a place where people can share knowledge to help each other explore and create, especially in the realms of science and engineering. His experience at the facility is largely with adults looking to work on personal projects, hone skills in areas they’d like to improve, or learn new ways of thinking and working.
“We’re certainly not a daycare,” Boden says. “Most of our members are adults or maybe high school students, but we work with very serious equipment and tools.”

One need venture no further than the Geek Group’s archive of videos on YouTube to see Boden in action with the Abuse of Power impulse generator, demonstrating catastrophic reactions. There are also useful training videos focusing on different tools and experiments that are used and take place at the facility.
The Geek Group’s mission is to provide access to science, technology, engineering, art and math by developing programming and facilities for individuals, teachers and institutions to learn, explore, innovate and play at a global scale at an independent pace according to their needs. Bokt’s hope for the organization is that it facilitates an interest in manufacturing, whether in the form of small projects or entire careers. She says it’s a field that could stand to see more people involved, especially in West Michigan.

For more information on the Geek Group, visit http://thegeekgroup.org.

Matthew Russell is the Project Editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at [email protected] 

Photography by Steph Harding 
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