Growing Up Making – Jessica Parker

Jessica GUM 2

Welcome to Maker Ed’s “Growing up Making” community blog series that highlights how maker educators have been influenced by family and their community. By sharing stories of what inspires maker educators, we’re excited to showcase the impactful and multigenerational human history of making.

This post was written by Jessica Parker, Education Community Manager at Maker Ed. Share your own #GrowingUpMaking story with us online via Twitter.

“Hey, I Have an Idea!”: My Dad, the Maker

by Jessica Parker

I was born in 1974 to parents who were hippies. I grew up in the small town of Sonoma, in northern California, where festivals for art and wine and dancing and car and motorcycle shows and races were the norm. So, it made sense to me that my dad was a jack-of-all-trades: an artist, a mechanic, an engineer, and a maker.

Dad’s painting that hangs in my house
Dad’s painting that hangs in my house

Jessica GUM 2

He always had such cool jobs. He was a press operator at Rip Off Press in San Francisco, or used a milling machine or turret lathe for side jobs at the local machine shop. My dad also loved fixing motorcycles, cars, and trucks of all kinds. In fact, the first thing my dad taught me to drive was a tractor. His first motorcycle was a Honda 750 which he used to ride to Laney Junior College in Oakland where he was a student (see pic to the right). We often had random machines and old cars, and random parts and materials in our barn. One summer my brother and I used an old roll of sheet metal as a slip-and-slide. (I really have no idea how we didn’t get hurt.)

What I really respect about my dad is how his mind works. He never went to school for engineering, and yet he worked as a quality control engineer for 35+ years. His interdisciplinary background as an artist, designer, and maker gave him the ability to not only learn on the job as an engineer, but also to excel at it. (He is retired now and he recently borrowed my 3D printer from Printrbot. I don’t think I will be getting it back any time soon.)


Jessica GUM 4
Top to bottom, left to right: (1) My dad building the addition to our house in Oregon; (2) One of my dad’s machines: a small thick film screen printer he built; (3) My dad’s 1970s selfie; (4) Me with a chicken, dog, and bag of rocks.

He is also a Pisces so he is a dreamer. My brother and I spent a lot of time as kids listening to him come up with what we thought, at the time, were crazy innovations. We did a lot of eye rolling back then during family dinners, during road trips, during weekends when inevitably my dad would say, “Hey, I have an idea!” (Take a look at the end of this post for a list of his ideas.) We always ended up listening to his plan or pitch and then instinctively became “sharks,” teasing out weaknesses in his idea and design by bombarding him with questions: How did you come up with this idea? Why is that so important? Hasn’t someone already come up with that idea? How will you manufacture it? How will you sell it?

I often see how discussions related to making tend to revolve around the hands-on aspect, a product or outcome. But my dad’s experience has encouraged me to look beyond products and to appreciate the ways of thinking needed to create them. He has inspired me to always ask, “How could this thing (situation, organization, activity) be improved?” “Is the design working here?” “Are we taking anything for granted?” “Are we missing anything?” “Are there gaps in our thinking?” “Does our design change if our users change?” He is always studying things–he doesn’t let the mundane take over. His disposition towards life, towards learning, towards the tools and crafted world has had a lasting impression on me. Some call it a maker mentality, some call it a sensibility, others call it soft skills, I call it a key aspect of what makes my dad a jack-of-all-trades: an artist, a mechanic, an engineer, and a maker.

My brother and I still to this day laugh every time he says, “I have a great idea!” We roll our eyes and ask, “What is it now?” and yet I’m thoroughly excited to hear what he has come up with and how that might impact how I view the world.

Examples of my dad’s ideas:

Drone/Robot Ideas:

  • Dog Residue (i.e., poop) Retrieval System
    • System components include:   
      • HD camera
      • GPS
      • Retrieval mechanism with bio degradable waste bag
      • Wheel based ground motion control with vertical extension system
      • Flight capability for low elevations with memory mapping for object collision avoidance
      • Smell sensor for fecal ID
      • Charging station
      • Residue deposit canister
      • Learning capability to post pets habitats to database
      • Notify pet owner if pet is constipated
  • Grass Mower (for home or industrial use, e.g., golf courses)
    • System components include:   
      • Solar battery system
      • Laser grass cutter
      • Night vision camera
  • Beverage Service Mobile App (for home or event use)
    • System components include:   
      • HD camera
      • GPS
      • Collision avoidance system
      • Breathalyzer
      • Payload two drink minimum (when at an event)

Personal Hygiene:

  • Combination Waterpik & Toothbrush (to floss and brush at the same time)
    • System components include:
      • Mouth tooth and gum digitized 3D profile
      • 3D drawing of profile with water pick channels and abrasive nodules
      • Plastic components cast to DFF file
      • Components assembled with water pick pumping unit






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